The student-run initiative is aiming to get 10,000 Ryerson students to vote
RyersonVOTES, the group that has set up on campus to encourage students to cast ballots in the federal election, is the brainchild of an adviser to the dean in the Faculty of Arts, who has a history of advocating for greater democratic involvement.
The student-run voter engagement campaign is aiming to get 10,000 Ryerson students to vote on-campus for this year’s federal election, which could potentially make Ryerson the university with the largest voter turnout in the country.
John Beebe founded the campus-wide, non-partisan voter engagement campaign for the 2019 federal election, which officially launched Aug. 26. The initiative includes over 40 student volunteers and is co-lad by third-year politics student Taylor Deasley and third-year professional communications student Aysha Anwar.
According to Deasley, it was in the works since June and launched at the beginning of frosh week with the mission “to increase political participation and increase voter turnout”.
In the last federal election, in 2015, 1,400 students voted on campus out of 36,000, which is approximately four per cent.
“I think it’s easy for young people to feel like older generations have more power to be involved in political spaces and decision making processes,” says Anwar. “They feel like what they have to say isn’t important and isn’t relevant.”
Ryerson politics professor Patrice Dutil says he is supportive of the campaign and believes it will reach the mark.
“It makes voting easy for students. The problem of not being ‘at home’ during voting periods always had an impact on lowering turnout among students,” says Dutil. “This initiative should eradicate the problem. There’s no excuse not to vote.”
Since RyersonVOTES launched, its members have appeared at a number of student group events such as leadership fairs, involvement fairs, and Faculty of Arts meet and greets to set up booths and interact with students who are potential voters.
They have also worked with other Ryerson organizations like the Ryerson Students’ Union, the Ryerson Residence Council, the Athletics Department and RU Student Life.
Deasley, Anwar and their team promote RyersonVOTES through social media campaigning, booths and one-on-one engagement.
They started by using their Instagram and Facebook accounts to get out their message, as well as voting-related content for students to access.
The most successful technique they have found is talking one-on-one with students to answer their questions and introduce them to the voting process, especially with first-year students and first-time voters.
“A lot of them are very intimidated by or don’t know how it works because the way politics is talked about is very aggressively,” says Deasley. “We’re trying to foster a culture of positivity, fun and excitement around it. We’re trying to create an atmosphere on campus where people feel comfortable to ask questions.”
Deasley explains that they try to “cater to each individual student” by taking as much time with a person as they need, whether that is 20 minutes of questions about where to go and why they should vote, or one question that takes 60 seconds.
So how does the organization ensure its volunteers aren’t pushing their own political beliefs? They hold training sessions for volunteers that use role-playing to simulate scenarios in which they may be asked who they are voting for or which candidate a student should choose.
Deasley stresses that remaining non-partisan is important to their campaigning, as failing to do so could make them appear less legitimant or trustworthy.
On the topic of why younger age groups are often a minority in voting population percentages Deasley and Anwar say there are a number of reasons, from being raised in a less politically engaged family to being intimidated by the process.
Anwar says her role in RyersonVOTES was also inspired by seeing her parents as a minority coming from Pakistan. She says coming from an underrepresented community in Canada, she is passionate about encouraging people and “letting them know they have space in politics, policy decisions and in political spaces.”
“When you go and vote on election day there’s no affiliation with Ryerson, but when you vote on campus it says something about the campus itself,” says Deasley. “If we say that 10,000 students voted on campus it says a lot about the engagement, about the university.”
“It says, ‘This is a community that is worth listening to because this is a highly engaged community that really cares about these issues.’ We’re trying to showcase that to not only the city of Toronto but the entire country.”