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Want to reach young voters? Try cellphones Technology could lure key demographic into the political process, group says

Technology could lure key demographic into the political process, group says


ng the next few weeks, thousands of cellphones in British Columbia will beep simultaneously with text messages reminding their users to vote in the May 17 provincial election or polling them on key issues.

The messages are being sent by Get Your Vote On, a non-partisan group that is trying to ignite the power of young voters like never before.

Olive Dempsey, coordinator of GYVO, said the target demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds can have impact provincewide and could swing the vote decisively in six important urban ridings.

"Young people are starting to realize voting is an important process to engage in and that they can make a difference in what their society looks like," Ms. Dempsey said.

A new analysis of electoral data by Elections BC shows that the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who have registered to vote in the province has more than doubled in the past two years, climbing to 146,000 from 71,000, she said. This is the first sign of a turnaround in a disturbing national trend in which young people have increasingly been opting out of voting.

"We've been seeing that young people haven't been voting as they get older, they haven't been developing democratic habits, and that's worrying," Ms. Dempsey said. "A number of groups have been working to turn that around, and I think these B.C. numbers show there has been some success."

GYVO is pushing hard to sign up even more young voters, using its text-messaging system, sending street teams out to meet potential voters and putting volunteers on college campuses.

Tonight in Vancouver, GYVO is holding a political rally that will be in stark contrast to what the Liberals, NDP and Green Party are doing on the campaign trail. The group has invited young voters of all political stripes to a hip-hop concert at the Commodore Ballroom to celebrate Earth Day to the beat of Kinnie Starr, Kia Kadiri, Sekoya and the Front.

Ms. Dempsey said provincial and national surveys consistently show that environmental issues are top of mind for most young voters, so an Earth Day celebration seemed like a natural campaign event.

On Friday, GYVO will do text-message polling on a related theme.

"I think the question will be: Do you support offshore oil drilling?" said Ms. Dempsey, who has 2,000 people signed up for text messaging and more logging on every day.

Ms. Dempsey said the new Elections BC data show that if young voters want, they can swing the results in ridings where the vote was close last time and where large numbers of 18- to 34-year-olds live.

In Vancouver Burrard, for example, people 34 years old and younger account for 41 per cent of the total number of voters. But only 37 per cent of the 25-34 age group and 22 per cent of the 18-24s registered to vote in 2001.

A bigger turnout of young voters could have changed the result there and in other close ridings, including Victoria Hillside (where the margin of victory was less than 1 per cent), Vancouver Fairview, Vancouver Kingsway, Vancouver Kensington and Victoria Beacon Hill, said Ms. Dempsey, 26, a recent communications graduate of Simon Fraser University.

"Young voters do have incredible political muscle," she said. "They just have to use it."

GYVO receives funding from the federal government and several foundations.

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