Originally posted on www.samaracanada.com

If we built it, would they vote?

This was the question that inspired our newest initiative in our federal election activities. In order to help community organizations and civic leaders encourage voting in their communities, we have created new “Vote PopUp” kits. Designed to be DIY and easily-accessible, the kits are available now for ordering by anyone interested in promoting voting in their community. The kits are designed to simulate —and demystify —the voting experience by recreating polling places in familiar locations. In the process, the activity encourages participants to reflect on why voting is important, and what really matters to them. 

In the past several weeks we at Samara have field tested the kits at two locations that are not usually considered hot beds for voter engagement: a quiet mall in northern Toronto and a community food centre that provides affordable quality produce and a free lunch. 

Our ballot box and voting screens were set up next to the food court at the mall and alongside the dining room at the food centre.  There we asked people to stop for a moment to vote on what mattered most to them from a list of five issues. We quickly learned two things: people have strong opinions, and they want to have their voices heard.

Vote PopUp gave participants a chance to see if they are registered to vote on Election Canada’s website and an opportunity to learn the new ID requirements for the upcoming federal election.  Happily, most voters found that they were registered even if they had never previously voted in a federal election.  One woman, who had just become a citizen a few weeks earlier, discovered that she was already on the voter list. This information alone made her feel more confident about looking ahead to voting this fall.

After participants cast their ballot, we asked them to write why voting is important on a poster. The answers we received were inspiring and sometimes surprising, including:

“Because I live in a country that allows me as a woman to vote!”

“If you don’t use it, we will lose it.” 

“I think it will make a difference”

Once presented with the opportunity, we never had to tell participants why voting is important.  They were always quick to tell us.

For the Samara staff members that ran the field tests, and are normally surrounded by stark data about lack of political engagement, it was refreshing to hear the passion and concerns of community members—some of whom were regular voters but many others who had never voted before.

As Samara volunteer Marce said, “It was fun being part of a ‘field test,’ and it was really interesting hearing from the community about why they vote as well as their challenges in voting.”

Many community partners and outstanding volunteers have contributed to the creation of the Vote PopUp kits, and we can’t wait to see how they are used to promote voting in communities across the country. A special thank you goes to Elections Canada and the Laidlaw Foundation for their financial support for this project.

If you or your organization would like to run your own Vote PopUp, all the materials are now live here on our website. If you’d like to get more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Read more Community Stories here.