Youth voters guide: From how to register to voting at school

Millennials now make up the largest voting bloc — included in that cohort are many youth voters casting a ballot for the very first time this federal election. How they vote and if they vote could have a big impact on who wins.

As part of our election texting initiative, we’ve been hearing from a bunch of young voters curious about what they need to know to vote. Here are some of the most common and interesting questions we’ve received.

If yours didn’t make the list, text ELECTION to 22222 and we’ll try to get back with an answer.

How do I register to vote?

If you haven’t voted in a federal election before, you’ll need to register — it’s a requirement to vote. You can register before Oct. 15 here or at an Elections Canada office. You can also register in person when you go to the polls on election day or in the advance polls running Oct. 11 to 14.

There’s a chance you’re already on the voters list. You can check that here.

I’m turning 18 right before the election. Am I allowed to vote?

We heard from someone turning 18 the day before the election who was curious if there is any sort of waiting period to process registration.

Elections Canada says as long as you are at least 18 on Oct. 21, you are good to vote. And though you still may be 17 right now, you can actually register to get on the voters list in advance right here.

And yes, this also means you can’t vote in the advance polls if you don’t turn 18 before them.

Students smile after voting early on campus at Ryerson University in Toronto. There are many options for youth hoping to vote: in-person on election day or in the advance polls, on campus, at an Elections Canada office or you can even apply to vote by mail. (John Beebe)

Is anyone considering changing the voting age limit?

It’s an idea that’s been mulled over many times — even Canada’s elections chief thinks it is “worth considering.” Advocates argue it could help squash voter apathy at a young age.

The change would have to happen in Parliament though. So both the NDP and the Greens are campaigning on lowering the voting age to 16. The Liberals have said they won’t touch it.

What are you voting for exactly? 

In a few of the questions we received, there was some confusion about exactly who you vote for in this election.

You get one vote — and that’s for your local MP.

How you choose to vote is up to you. Some people choose to vote for their local candidate, for a party or that party’s leader. But your actual vote is for that MP. The candidate who gets the most votes locally will represent your riding on Parliament Hill.

And you probably already know this already, but it’s worth repeating: Canadians don’t vote directly for a prime minister.

What does the ballot look like?

If you are voting in the advance polls or on election day, the candidates in your riding will be listed on your ballot. It will look a little something like this.

(Elections Canada)

To properly vote, mark the circle beside the candidate you want to vote for. It can be an X or another mark to make it clear that is the candidate you want to vote for.

If you are voting by special ballot (that includes voting by mail or at an Elections Canada office), you’ll be given a ballot where you have to write in the name of the candidate you want to vote for. If you write the party name down, it won’t be counted.

If you misspell the name of the candidate, your vote is at the discretion of the deputy returning officer. If the intent is clear — Elections Canada gives the example of spelling MacDonald instead of McDonald — then the vote will most likely still be counted.

What if I voted for the wrong person?

It happens. If you put a mark beside someone you didn’t want to vote for, let a polling staffer know. Your ballot will then be counted as a “spoiled ballot” and will be kept secret. They are tracked, but the number of “spoiled ballots” aren’t made public.

Elections Canada will give you a replacement ballot but will also warn you that you only get one replacement.

If it’s already gone into the ballot box, it’s too late. There’s no way to take back your ballot then.

How do I vote if I’m at school/living somewhere else?

It depends on which riding you want to cast a vote in.

If you consider your student/away from home housing (including residence buildings) your current home and have valid ID confirming the address (you can use a voter card for this), you can vote in that riding at a polling station in the advance polls or on election day. You can update your address here.

Students walk toward the voting station at Conestoga College in Kitchener. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

If you want to vote at your home away from where you are right now, you can do it via mail by applying here. Or you can head to the local Elections Canada office before Oct. 15 and vote there for your “home” riding.

Elections Canada is also running polls on 115 different campuses across the country from Oct. 5 to 9, where you can vote for either your current riding or your riding back home. There is a full list of all the schools involved here.

How do I get involved if I’m too young to vote?

There are plenty of ways to get involved if you aren’t old enough to vote just yet.

If it’s a party or candidate you want to support, you can contact a particular campaign and volunteer your time. You are also allowed to donate money to a campaign, but parties have to be sure you are doing it “willingly,” using your own money.

You can also get involved by applying to work at the polls themselves. The jobs are open for those who are 16 and older on election day. You might have to take the day off school but, hey, it’s a good learning experience and you get to make money!

What are the parties doing for young people?

Young voters came out in droves in the last election, contributing to the big bump in overall turnout. Elections Canada estimates that about 57 per cent of the population between the ages of 18 and 34 voted in 2015, up from a mere 42.5 per cent in 2011. That’s about 1.2 million more voters — votes which parties are hungry for.

There are some specific promises parties are making to appeal to youth voters — including climate change initiatives, cellphone bills and bans on unpaid internships. 

But perhaps the most explicit pitch to young people is through each party’s education platform.

Until election day, we’ll be rounding up your questions and answering some in articles like the one you just read. If you’ve got questions (youth vote related or otherwise), text “ELECTION” to 22222 or send Haydn an email at He’ll try his very best to get you an answer — he may even add it to this article or include it in a future one.