Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Whatever the reason, mark your ballot today

Some put a little more effort into performing their civic duty

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Tonight, Manitobans will be consumed with seat counts, advance polls, margins of victory and a mess of other fascinating figures.

But there's one number we can't forget: voter turnout.

Put bluntly, Manitobans aren't getting their butts to the voting booth. Barely half of all eligible voters cast a ballot in the last two elections, and turnout has been on a steady slide since the early 1970s.

We've got no excuse Tuesday. The weather is supposed to be perfect. There are at least 20 ridings where one vote might make a difference. And you won't get another shot until Oct. 6, 2015. Who knows what might happen between now and then?

Need a little more inspiration to punt you to the polls? Here are three Manitobans who go the extra mile on election day.

 

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Sim Pannu has canvassed for candidates, lobbied politicians and even spoiled her ballot because none of the candidates impressed her.

She's just 24. Political scientists lamenting dismal voter turnout among young people might ask "Can we clone her?"

Pannu cast her first ballot in the 2006 federal election for then-NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. A few years later, when Wasylycia-Leis ran for mayor, Pannu was disappointed in her former MP's campaign and spoiled her ballot in frustration.

This election, she's gone one step further, partnering with friends to create the website Get Out the Vote. It's meant to inspire young voters and give them a primer on each party's platform. There's also a gentle threat -- the real likelihood that government will again be formed by older people and will cater only to them because they vote, and young people don't.

"I'm pretty informed about the issues, but I found that a lot of my friends, they just don't really know what the parties stand for," said Pannu, who is studying to become a civil engineering technician. "And the language the politicians use, it's nothing short of fear-mongering."

Pannu is a rare voter who doesn't lean toward one party. Instead, she researches her local candidates -- this time, in the new Tyndall Park riding -- and makes her choice based largely on that, as well as platforms.

"Every time there's an election, I vote," she said.

-- Mary Agnes Welch

 

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He started his political activism in the 1940s by biking around downtown Winnipeg selling CCF memberships, bringing in just enough money one afternoon to ensure the party's secretary got a paycheque.

Later, Rodney McAuley campaigned for former NDP cabinet minister Al Mackling in one of his early races.

Now, at age 84, McAuley's has become the go-to lawn-sign co-ordinator for countless NDP campaigns, the kind of unsung volunteer who makes democracy function.

During May's federal election, McAuley delivered lawn signs for Rachelle Devine, the NDP candidate in Kildonan-St. Paul. This election, he's volunteering for NDP MLA Erna Braun's re-election campaign in Rossmere, delivering lawn signs to supporters right up until Monday.

"It's the easiest thing to do," the retired Winnipeg Hydro worker said. "I wouldn't want to knock on doors. I did that enough in my life."

For years, until his wife died, they would deliver signs in tandem. They had to occasional run-in with voters.

"Sometimes we'd get a his and hers," he said. "He wants the sign and she doesn't."

His favourite campaign? The rough-and-tumble provincial race in 1999, when Harry Schellenberg finally edged out former justice minister Vic Toews in Rossmere by just a few hundred votes.

McAuley, who grew up near the Saskatchewan border, got interested in politics as a teenager watching Tommy Douglas and the CCF sweep to power in that province in 1944.

Lately, buoyed by the number of young Quebec MPs elected in May, McAuley has been talking to his own grandchildren about politics, hoping to nudge them into the same grassroots activism.

 

-- Mary Agnes Welch

 

-- -- --

Morden Collegiate Institute teacher Darryl Toews isn't just teaching his Grade 9 students about government and elections this fall.

He's bringing them to the polls to experience the real thing.

Toews and his entire social studies class will trek across the street from the school to the Morden Access Event Centre this afternoon, where Toews will cast his ballot in the provincial election.

It's about the fifth time Toews has used an election to give his students a live view of voting.

"It makes more sense, rather than just talking about it, to go and show them," Toews said.

The poll workers are usually a little startled because the class starts applauding when he puts his ballot into the box, he said.

It's critical to help young people understand the importance of voting to make the experience less intimidating, Toews said.

His hope is when it comes time for the students to vote when they turn 18, they will feel confident about the process and will understand it's easy and important to go and vote.

-- Mia Rabson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2011 A4

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