James Crosty's Adopt a Voter program targets teens in trying to boost turnout in New Westminster
New Westminster mayoral candidate James Crosty is launching a unique initiative to engage youth and encourage voter participation in the lead-up to next month’s civic election.
Crosty’s so-called Adopt a Voter program aims to pair people below the eligible voting age of 18 with those who will be old enough under law to cast a ballot on November 19.
Through the voluntary program, young New Westminster residents will search in the community for a voter they can “adopt”, such as a family member or friend—ideally, someone who did not vote in the last local-government election.
With a willing voter found, the youth participants are encouraged to research the candidates for mayor, council, and school board. They would then recommend candidates and perhaps even escort their chosen voter to the polls on election day.
“The best part about it is the discussion, it’s the enlightenment—it’s the possibilities, it’s dreaming of what could be,” Crosty said.
“We should be able to talk about politics. We should be able to agree to disagree and we should be able to state our reasons why.”
Crosty lamented the level of voter turnout for recent civic elections in New Westminster. In 2008, around 10,000 people cast ballots out of more than 42,000 eligible voters, a turnout of just under 24 percent.
“We want to engage more people to come out and vote,” said Crosty, a businessman who is challenging incumbent Wayne Wright for the mayor’s seat.
“This isn’t about getting votes for me, although that would be nice. It’s about getting votes, period,” Crosty said.
Paul Thompson, communications director for Crosty’s election-campaign, admitted that the Adopt a Voter program will only catch on if there is enough interest.
“You have to be realistic,” Thompson told the Straight. “We’re trying to make democracy relevant, but at the end of the day, only so many youth are going to be interested in politics, just like the adults. Only so many vote. The rest don’t care. But at least it’s an opportunity to make something happen.”
Crosty’s election-campaign team will be promoting the New Westminster Adopt a Voter program through social media and asking participants to register by email at email@example.com.
“It gives anyone who feels disenfranchised a voice, an opportunity to have their voice heard. They just have to find a conduit, through a voter, to make it happen,” Thompson said.
Michael Prince, a social-policy professor at the University of Victoria, said the Adopt a Voter campaign sounds like a great idea.
“As long as it’s done in a thoughtful way, I think it is an opportunity for the young person to do research, find out some information, and it might actually provide a very useful function for a busy adult who doesn’t have the time or inclination to do that,” Prince told the Straight by phone.
“The young person might actually feel like they’ve exercised some influence, certainly maybe raised the awareness of an adult. And to the extent of saying, ‘Well, I think you might want to vote for so-and-so,’ I guess that could be the good stuff of family discussion.”
Prince said voter turnout for local government elections in B.C. is usually “modest”. He said the number of voters who cast ballots is often in the 30-to-40-percent range.
“Municipal elections tend to be low-key. There aren’t as many signs. There aren’t as many events. You don’t have the party organization, often. So you’ve got to think of other ways to get out the vote, and this might not be a bad way,” he said, referring to the Adopt a Voter program.