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Igniting Voter Participation in the 42nd Federal Election

Prepared by John Beebe and José Ramón Martí © Samara Canada 2015

Table of Contents Samara Canada ....................................................................................................................................... 3 Vote PopUp: A Module of the Democracy Talks Program ....................................................................... 3 Key Messages ......................................................................................................................................... 4 A Toolkit for Community Groups to Ignite Voter Participation ............................................................... 5 Engaging Those Least Likely to Vote ....................................................................................................... 5 Designing Vote PopUp for Community Groups ....................................................................................... 6 Lessons Learned ...................................................................................................................................... 7 Looking Forward ................................................................................................................................... 10


Samara Canada Samara Canada is dedicated to reconnecting citizens to politics. Established as a charity in 2009, we have become Canada’s most trusted, non-partisan champion of increased civic engagement and a more positive public life. Samara Canada’s research and educational programming shine new light on Canada’s democratic system and encourage greater political participation across the country to build better politics, and a better Canada, for everyone.

Vote PopUp: A Module of the Democracy Talks Program In 2013, using research and working in association with community groups, Samara Canada set out to reinvent civic education beyond school walls. The result is Democracy Talks; a flexible, yet structured and tested, approach to getting newcomers, youth and marginalized communities to take the first step on the path toward political engagement. As one of Canada’s leading educational charities which supports efforts to improve democratic participation, Samara understands the valuable role that civic and social organizations play as trusted educators in our democracy. That is why our Democracy Talks program is delivered in partnership with community groups, empowering local leaders and staff to organize outreach activities that are meaningful within their communities.

Participant practices the mechanics of voting at a neighbourhood centre.

Through this long-term effort, Samara provides programming and training for community-based organizations to help Canadians who are disengaged discover and develop their political voice. The principles of Democracy Talks are that political engagement should be community-based, active, run by trusted intermediaries and fun! As Canadians prepared for the 42nd federal election, community organizations and civic leaders were looking for creative and meaningful ways to engage their communities in the electoral process. In response, Samara created Vote PopUp as the election module of Democracy Talks. Vote PopUp embraces the principles of Democracy Talks and reminds participants that they have a voice and that it matters.


Key Messages 

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Made Possible by our Funders

In 2011, voter turnout was on the The Vote PopUp initiative would not be decline, with only 61% of eligible possible without the generous support of our Canadians casting a ballot. Non-voters funders. In addition to providing seed funding within this cohort were for the Vote PopUp toolkit and programming, disproportionately young, racialized, Elections Canada provided authoritative marginalized or some combination of information about voting, and supplied ballot these. boxes and voting screens to increase the In 2015, community groups that authenticity of the experience. served this cohort wanted to include their members in formal politics and sought effective tools to engage their communities in the election and reverse the decline in voter participation. As part of that wave of interest in Other supporters include Laidlaw Foundation, encouraging voter turnout, Samara Inspirit Foundation, Patagonia, Your Canada launched the Vote PopUp toolkit as a Your Constitution and individual supporters. free download on July 7th, 2015. The program was designed to foster interest in the election and demystify the voting process for first-time and infrequent voters. By October 19th, less than four months later:  The kit had been downloaded by 456 people in either English or French;  440 community leaders and staff had been trained at 13 sessions in five cities, including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax;  At least 330 community groups had been involved in Vote PopUp activities (such as holding Vote PopUp events, attending trainings or downloading the kit); and  Samara was able to document 226 Vote PopUps that were organized and held. Vote PopUps occurred in such varied locations as a homeless shelter in Calgary, a settlement agency in Toronto, a mobile library in Ottawa and a farmers’ market in Vancouver. Over 2,000 individuals were reported to have participated in a Vote PopUp. Vote PopUp imparted vital information from Elections Canada about where, when and how to vote. Organizers reported successful program implementation and many—including The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto and the Canadian Arab Institute—went on to run multiple Vote PopUp events. Vote PopUp stories were featured in at least 21 media outlets and hundreds of social media posts. In 2015, voter turnout increased to 69%, the highest in 22 years. When organizers were surveyed, 98% of respondents said they would run a Vote PopUp again.

The Vote PopUp toolkit is available at


A Toolkit for Community Groups to Ignite Voter Participation In the lead-up to the 42nd federal election, Vote PopUp enabled hundreds of community groups to spark a conversation about what matters to Canadians and demystify the voting process for first-time and infrequent voters. Along with the formation of a new government, the 2015 federal election witnessed a historic surge in voter turnout and a dramatic increase in participation over the last federal election. While this sharp rise can be attributed to various factors, widespread efforts to educate and motivate voters certainly played a role. When community-based organizations sought to ignite voter participation, there was one tool they reached for more than any other: Vote PopUp.

“I’ve never once voted in 20 years. It never occurred to me because I have a lot of worries. Maybe I will vote on Monday. It isn’t as hard as I thought.” — Participant

Engaging Those Least Likely to Vote For citizens, voting has historically served as a powerful expression of political voice. Yet, over the past three decades, voter turnout steadily declined. Making matters worse, young people, newcomers, vulnerable populations and other marginalized groups have tended to vote at even lower rates, further reinforcing the cycle of exclusion and their sense of powerlessness. These trends raise a disturbing question: if politics is how we make decisions, and some voices are not heard, how do we know we are Simulated poll at a drop-in centre. making the right decisions? "We have a democracy,” remarked one Vote PopUp organizer, “which means we should hear everyone's voice.” As Vote PopUp organizers observed, first-time and infrequent voters often encounter a variety of barriers to voting: a lack of knowledge, distrust of politicians and the political system, and even unfamiliarity with the process of voting itself. With communities confronting a multitude of barriers, it is unlikely that any single response can address them all. With Vote PopUp, Samara pioneered a novel approach to voter engagement in which trusted leaders and local organizations engaged their communities in meaningful conversations—asking questions and validating concerns and prior experiences—and presented creative opportunities for participants to practice voting and express why voting is important to them.


“I vote because it helps others!”

One organizer affirmed that Vote PopUp could “help people of any age understand what’s expected and remove some of the intimidation and confusion around the voting process.” Another organizer found that it “encouraged people to ask the questions they were uncertain about, practice the actual process of voting and see how simple and painless it is.”

Designing Vote PopUp for Community Groups Before the October 19th election, community groups and civic leaders throughout Canada were looking for effective tools to engage their communities and reverse the decline in voter turnout. To meet this urgent need, Samara Canada created the Vote PopUp kit. As a fun and flexible activity that could be run at little or no cost, Vote PopUp enabled community organizers to simulate the voting experience by recreating a polling place in a variety of settings, with Elections Canada freely supplying ballot boxes, voting screens and informational materials. This experience gave first-time and infrequent voters the opportunity to practice casting a ballot, learn about voting requirements and affirm their commitment to political participation. But Vote PopUp did more than that: it turned the standard model of voter engagement on its head.

Organizers decide what issues or choices appear on the ballot.

Unlike other approaches that stress particular reasons for voting or simply command people to vote, Vote PopUp fostered interest in the election by asking participants what matters to them and connecting their interests and concerns with the electoral process. As Jane Hilderman, Samara’s Executive Director, noted, “Instead of arriving with a poster of someone else’s top ten reasons to Participants share why voting is important on a large banner. vote, Vote PopUp organizers left with a poster of the many reasons people in their community felt voting was important.” In the weeks and months leading up to the election, local, regional and national organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary, Young Voters of PEI and the Canadian Arab Institute took up the cause, setting up Vote PopUps at local festivals and food banks, in drop-in centres and student residences and during farmers’ markets and adult education classes, among a variety of other locations.


Lessons Learned Through Samara’s research and programming and the work of community organizations, we have found that when people engage in political conversation they are more likely to become politically active. Based on these insights, we designed an engagement activity that asked participants what matters to them and highlighted their response. In addition to giving participants a chance to develop their political voice, Vote PopUp imparted vital information about where, when and how to vote.

Vote PopUp by the Numbers:  In only 104 days, the toolkit was downloaded by 456 people in 76 towns and cities across all 10 provinces and 1 territory.  At least 330 community groups held a Vote PopUp, attended a training or accessed the toolkit.  440 staff members, students and volunteers participated in 13 training sessions in 5 cities from coast-to-coast.  #VotePopUp was used over 600 times to share stories and pictures on social media.  Vote PopUp was mentioned by at least 21 different media outlets, spanning print, web, radio and television.

Samara launched Vote PopUp on July 7th, 2015. By Election Day, hundreds of community groups throughout Canada had downloaded the toolkit, thousands of Canadians had practiced voting and reports of polls “popping up” had spread throughout traditional and social media. The tool had worked. What lessons can be drawn from its success?

Youth training at Samara’s headquarters in Toronto, one of 13 training sessions led by Samara staff.

1. Keep It Simple and Flexible Community groups and local leaders felt comfortable using the kit because it was an easy-to-use and highly adaptable toolkit that met an identified need. 2. Provide Regular and Ongoing Training and Support Samara—building on an existing network of engaged community groups and individuals—invested time and effort into supporting organizers and ensuring its successful implementation.

“Doing this practice vote makes me feel more confident about Election Day. I kept worrying that I would do something wrong. Now I see this voting thing is simple. I like that.” — Participant

Samara provided community organizations and civic leaders:  Email and telephone support;  In-person training in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax;  Bi-weekly newsletters;  Regularly updated web resources;  Coordinators and volunteers in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary; and  A post-election survey to see what worked well and what could be improved. 7

The Vote PopUp kit was downloaded in 76 municipalities across Canada.

3. Demystify the Voting Process

Participant listens attentively to a familiar voice in her community.

For first-time or infrequent voters, the mechanics of voting can be a barrier to participation. For some new Canadians, prior voting experiences may have been frustrating or even intimidating. Vote PopUp clarified what was needed to vote and illustrated the simplicity of voting by walking participants through the process. Indeed, the vast majority of organizers who responded to our survey reported an increase in participants’ knowledge of voting. As an eager participant from Afghanistan admitted, “It was confusing how the process works so now everything is clear. I’ll be pretty confident about voting in the future.”

For individuals who never or rarely vote, Vote PopUp demystified the process by:  confirming they were registered with up-to-date information;  informing them about acceptable forms of identification;  ensuring they knew how, where and when to vote; and  allowing them to practice casting a ballot. With Vote PopUp, everyone could participate and have their voice heard. For people who care deeply about their community but could not yet vote because of their age or citizenship status, Vote PopUp permitted them to feel included while gaining valuable knowledge, confidence and hands-on experience voting. “Vote PopUp will make me ready to vote one day,” a permanent resident from Colombia assured.


“I’m voting because…”

4. Motivate Voter Participation For Canadians, motivation is a significant barrier to participation. With Vote PopUp, people were not told why to vote. Instead, they were asked what matters to them. They were then able to make their own connection between their interests and aspirations and the electoral process. “People want to talk about not just voting, but how issues affect them,” confirmed one organizer. By inviting people to talk about the issues that concern them, they were more inclined to act. As one participant confessed, “I’ve never once voted in 20 years. It never occurred to me because I have a lot of worries. Maybe I will vote on Monday. It isn’t as hard as I thought.”

“I would appreciate getting the chance to vote. This has really made me motivated." – Participant and recent refugee

Moreover, Vote PopUp helped create a cultural expectation of engagement. By inviting participants to set an example for others, Vote PopUp extended beyond the personal and transformed the way others in the community perceived their role as active citizens. By encouraging new civic norms and patterns of behaviour, Vote PopUp reinforced a cultural shift towards greater political engagement.

5. Support Local, Trusted, and Non-Partisan Outreach Until this election, often due to limited capacity and funding barriers, democratic engagement had not figured prominently in the work of many community-based organizations. Nevertheless, when Canadians are contacted by local organizations they know and trust, they are much more likely to respond and engage in the political process. For young Canadians and new citizens voting for the first time, these organizations serve as a critical and trusted source of information and guidance. Student engages a fellow student on campus.

By using Samara’s practical and comprehensive toolkit to engage diverse communities in the election, organizations like North York Harvest Food Bank and Calgary Alternative Support Services discovered the confidence and resources to undertake voter engagement activities for the very first time. Vote PopUp gave local groups and community leaders a non-partisan platform to showcase their civic involvement. By avoiding partisanship, organizers could ensure that everyone felt welcomed to participate. Driven by a deep understanding and connection to their communities, organizers were able to make the experience both meaningful and enjoyable for participants. Their efforts to catalyze discussion "If they don’t know what [voting] looks like, this is one between neighbours, staff and volunteers also served to way to show them that it’s not scary. It can be exciting.” strengthen social bonds. – Organizer


From neighbourhood houses and settlement agencies to food banks and student associations, a multitude of community organizations participated in Vote PopUp. An array of advocacy groups, public libraries and community health centres also joined the movement. Together, they succeeded in igniting voter participation across the country.

“I like this activity. It’s simple. Democracy runs on participation so it works!” — Participant

Samara congratulates the over 330 community groups that helped build the Vote PopUp movement and strengthen our democracy. Organizers included:            

Assembly of Seven Generations, Ottawa, ON Be The Vote

Okanagan Regional Libraries, Kelowna, BC

Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre, Scarborough, ON Boys and Girls Club of Calgary, Calgary, AB Calgary Alternative Support Services, Calgary, AB Canadian Arab Institute City for All Women Initiative, Ottawa, ON Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, Vancouver, BC Halifax Public Libraries, Halifax, NS Kingston Community Health Centres, Kingston, ON Lambton Circles, Sarnia, ON North York Harvest Food Bank, North York, ON

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Regent Park Community Health Centre, Toronto, ON South Etobicoke Community Legal Services, Etobicoke, ON South Shore Public Libraries, Bridgewater, NS Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Students' Association, Calgary, AB The Salvation Army, Saint John, NB The Table Community Food Centre, Perth, ON University of Regina Students' Union, Regina, MB Vancouver Farmers Markets, Vancouver, BC We, the Voters, Courtenay, BC

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YMCA of Greater Toronto, Toronto, ON Young Voters of PEI, Charlottetown, PEI

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Looking Forward

“Political engagement builds political capital, and political capital means that our concerns and dreams are more likely to be listened to.” — Wab Kinew, The Walrus, 2015

During the 42nd federal election, hundreds of community organizations reached out to members of their community, asked them what matters to them and encouraged them to participate in the election. And then Canadians voted in record numbers—millions for the very first time. There is now a choice.


We can declare victory, pack up all the materials and wait for the next election before mobilizing again. However, without ongoing engagement—by political parties, civic organizations or elected officials—these hundreds of newly engaged community groups and millions of first-time voters are at risk of disengaging and failing to contribute to the public conversation. When people are disengaged from politics, we, as a collective, lose the insights and experiences of many. And for the individuals, disillusionment increases and agency is diminished. Alternatively, we can learn from these experiences, continue to support local community organizations and amplify the voice of those community members who participated for the first time.

Young voter casts a ballot for the first time.

For Samara, we will continue to build on Vote PopUp’s success through our research and engagement activities, such as Democracy Talks and the Everyday Political Citizen project. In this way, we will engage community groups and individuals in the 1,459 days between federal elections.

“I’m not a citizen so I didn’t think I could do the practice poll. I’m happy that I could see a ballot and try things out. Maybe one day I can vote!” — Participant

“I have just become a citizen and this will be my first time voting. I’m glad it’s easy!” — Participant

“Voting is important to me. It is one of the few ways I feel connected to the larger picture in Canada.” — Participant


Coverage of Vote PopUp Print and Online: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20.

“A vote for the future,” Imagine A City (October 15, 2015). Hnatyshyn, Carl. “Honing the fine art of voting,” Sarnia This Week (October 13, 2015). Ikonen, Maria. “A guide for first-time voters,” New Canadian Media (October 13, 2015). Bengston, Ben. “Many students confused about Fair Elections Act voter ID requirements,” The Voice (October 8, 2015). Chignall, Selina. “Vote PopUp: Getting the vote out among non-voters,” iPolitics (October 7, 2015). Elliott, Wendy. “Voting troubles abound,” Kings County News (October 6, 2015). Zaretski, Veronica. “Election 2015: who says young people won't vote?” U of T News (October 5, 2015). Isai, Vjosa. “One group’s effort to pop (up) the vote,” National Post (October 3, 2015). Mayer, Andre. “Want to engage non-voters? Don’t bully them, says civic action groups,” CBC News (October 2, 2015). Morden, Paul. “Program encourages voting, democracy,” Sarnia Observer (October 2, 2015). “Citizen Spark No. 14: Why do you get out and vote?” The Province (October 2, 2015). Evelyn, Charelle. “New ID requirements for voters on Oct. 19,” Prince George Citizen (October 1, 2015). O'Neill, Shane. “Is the Fair Elections Act leaving young Canadians behind?” The Chronicle (October 1, 2015). Workman, Teresa. “Your vote counts: Public libraries encouraging citizens to get out and vote,” South Shore Breaker (September 30, 2015). Lui, Samantha. “Courting the ‘Ethnic Vote,’” New Canadian Media (September 24, 2015). “Students at University of Regina encouraged to vote,” CBC News (September 23, 2015). Wood, James. “Mock election used to encourage homeless Calgarians to vote,” Calgary Herald (September 21, 2015) Kelly, Heather. “Learn How to Vote at Your Local Library,” QCCR 99.3 (September 11, 2015). “Vote PopUp,” Rabble (August, 2015). Devoy, Desmond. “Table holds mock election as part of voter education drive,” Perth Courier (August 18, 2015).

Television: 1. At 8 p.m. on September 10, 2015, Jane Hilderman, Executive Director of Samara, appeared on a special election program that aired on CP24 in Toronto and was hosted by Stephen LeDrew. Jane was joined by Dalia Farra, a Vote PopUp organizer from the Canadian Arab Institute. Radio: 1. At 5:40 a.m. on July 23, 2015, John Beebe, Outreach Manager at Samara, appeared in conversation with Jaimie Kehler on CBC Kelowna. 12

Profile for The Samara Centre for Democracy

Samara's Vote PopUp  

This report documents the way in which community groups across Canada ignited voter participation in the 42nd federal election.

Samara's Vote PopUp  

This report documents the way in which community groups across Canada ignited voter participation in the 42nd federal election.

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