Improving Young Voter Turnout
Youths constitute about half of the voting population in Fiji and the earlier they are exposed to election information and voting, the higher the probability that they will make it a habit to participate in elections as they get older.
The field of elections is not a fixed area. It is constantly subject to changes, improvements and transformations especially for a country like Fiji whose electoral process is not even a decade old. It will therefore be enriched with new tools and techniques with its integrity and credibility being questioned at times.
In fact, adopting innovations definitely require certain levels of openness, expertise, cooperation and coordination with key electoral stakeholders. The Fijian Elections Office needs to be in a state of readiness to take risks and try out different methods and solutions that are put forth for its consideration.
Fiji has had two general elections based on the Electoral Act 2014. Gauging from the election results, one can infer that 2018 results recorded a higher number of registered voters compared to 2014.
Unfortunately, a large number of 2018 registered voters did not even make it to their assigned polling stations on Election Day. It raises the question as to the root cause(s) of this analysis. This paper seeks to explore some of the available options or recommendations that the Fijian Elections Office may incorporate into their current system with the hope of improving young voter turnout in the next national general election.
Recommendation 1 – include a compulsory election related Unit in all University offered programmes
Teaching students about the importance of voting and how voting marks the beginning of democracy would clear a lot of doubts and help students be more confident about their voting rights. Currently, election information has been introduced into the Year 10 syllabus in 2017 which is a great initiative. However, the students in the upper grades would have missed out on this important election information. If the Fijian Elections Office designs an election related course and liaise with all the Colleges and Universities in Fiji to have it as part of the compulsory set of units that are part of every student’s programme, the students who have missed out on this election information from high schools would have an opportunity to learn about it in college or in University. In addition, these students are reaching/have just reached the voting age.
Youths disengagement in elections is not only a prevalent issue in Fiji but in almost all other countries as well. After frequent surveys in Georgia, they set up the Centre for parliamentary studies for the information-educational project ‘First Voter’ which was implemented for the development of young voters’ electoral culture. This centre was able to bring together many young people from every corner of Georgia. The project had been launched in 2015 but had been expanding over the years. In a similar fashion, Fiji may start with having one unit in the University programmes and slowly expand if and when proven successful.
Recommendation 2 – engage with church youth groups, sporting teams, social clubs, village youth groups, and others
Although a good number of youths attend colleges and universities after finishing from high school, an equally good number of them are considered dropouts and either return to their villages or engage themselves in casual labours in towns and cities. Since this is a high peak period for peer groups, these young people have a high tendency to be a part of a social group. It is the duty of the Fijian Elections Office to work in partnership with these social groups or civil society organisations, to spread information about the Voting process. This can include the various Church organisations in Fiji, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs and may even include some non-government organisations. A study by CIRCLE indicates that “when youths are contacted by organisations or campaigns and are educated about the voting process, they are more inclined to turn out to cast their vote”.
Furthermore, these youth engagements should be organized with a festive atmosphere. Bernie Sanders, a United States Senator was extremely successful in mobilizing youths in the 2016 elections. One of the main reasons for this was the fun-filled atmosphere he created through his campaigns. His rallies not only inspired youths, they were always fun to attend. In similar fashion, I would suggest to partner with some local bands or create a festive atmosphere that might work hand in hand or even replace the Open Broadcasts that we normally have. It would definitely bring people from far and near to attend and treat themselves to a fun-filled event, where important election information may also be disseminated.
Recommendation 3 – employing or engaging low income earners and the vulnerable to be part of the Fijian Elections Office Election Day Officials or other forms of employment, activities and initiatives
“Researchers in the US suggested that there is a strong relationship between household incomes (or wealth) and voting”. Simply put, what is being suggested is that, poverty presents obstacles to voting and the poor vote proportionately less frequent than their richer counterparts. As much as I would like to believe that this is not really the case for Fiji, I have an inclination to think that there might be some truth to this fact. Hence, the suggestion to work with relevant authorities like the Department of Social Welfare; Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, to use the relevant data in identifying low income earning families and engaging them in election related activities and employment. This is not only a great opportunity to promote inclusiveness in the election process, it is a form of corporate social responsibility whereby the Fijian Elections Office is giving back to the public somethings that is related to its core competencies.
In relation to the above, the Fijian Elections Office may also consider engaging the disabled and victims of violence against women. A similar program was used in Tunisia, whereby the Tunisian electoral authority, with the support of International IDEA, UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) monitored violence against women for its staff during electoral campaigns in September this year. Similarly, the Fijian Elections Office may consider providing them employment or other opportunities where they are not only considered Election Officials, they can also be vessels that empower other women who may be going through situations similar to theirs. With the recent increase of cases of violence against women, most of which have been resulting in deaths, I believe that it is high time for Fijian Elections Office to coordinate with relevant authorities in combating these social problems because elections are the foundation of any democracy and may just open doors to a whole new light of freedom.
Recommendation 4 – encourage political parties to have more youth candidates
In Fiji’s current political structure, youth representation in parliament is probably at its lowest or at zero level. This I believe is a major contributing factor to low youth voter turnout. Research has consistently shown that contact by political campaigns is effective in engaging young people and driving voter turnout. This will be even more effective if they see their peers contesting in the national general election. Young people are highly likely to vote when they see their peers in places where they perceive higher access to civic opportunities.
Michael Bruter, a professor of political science at the London School of Economics, said that while young people tend to be suspicious of elites and politicians, “they find it easier to get passionate about an issue than they do about a party”. And seeing the party compositions in Fiji today, it is no wonder a lot of youth issues are not addressed. In the case of not having many youth candidates in these political parties, they should at least be encouraged to include youth issues into their manifestos and encourage youth participation in politics. Bruter adds, “all the parties think that the problem is that their message is not heard by young people. This is completely the wrong way of looking at things. The problem is a problem of substance, not communication. Young people fully understand what the parties are offering, yet, are rejecting it,” added Bruter. The Fijian Elections Office to work with the political parties in Fiji to re-look at these issues in future general elections.
Recommendation 5 – introduce semi-electronic voting through the use of the TVS machines.
Youths of today are at the forefront of technology and introducing the use of Touch Screen Voting machines during elections will certainly fascinate them and motivate them to turn up at their assigned polling stations to cast their vote. The world is going digital, Fiji too is heading towards digitization, and therefore I believe that introducing e-voting in the next election will certainly boost youth voter turnout in the future.
Recommendation 6 – enhance the existing systems and methods already in place
Aside from the above recommendations, the Fijian Elections Office also has the opportunity to enhance and improve the already existing systems and methods. There are some innovative ways of improving the current systems. For example, there is the need to improve the informational, educational and communication materials (IECM) that are produced to disseminate voter information. This correlates with the Pacific people’s “lack of reading” habit. Hence, the need to produce humorous, interesting materials and pictorials that are not only appealing to the readers, but are also giving them important election information.
Secondly, is the need to strategise and implement plans that mitigate the negative influences of social media on Fiji’s general elections. Social media has become one of the powerful mediums of disseminating any information type. IFES and International IDEA are suggesting that there is a responsibility to contribute to this global dialogue on social media and elections. There is a possibility to interpret the global stream of ideas coming from these multi-national organisations and assist the Fijian Elections office in our own national circumstances.
Elections, as imperfect as they may be, are still an integral part of Fiji’s democratic process. They have also become a major source of misinformation and misinterpretation. An election is not just an event but a process with three important phases – the before, during and post-election periods and all the phases are of equal importance. While election is considered a sovereign national exercise, the Fijian Elections Office will always be concerned about the process of delivering credible elections. I strongly believe that delivering credible elections is a collective enterprise, hence the above mentioned recommendations.
While voter turnout on Election Day will be the final measurement to the success of these recommendations, there are some small steps we can take to gauge the effectiveness of these approaches. During the pre-election period, we can measure through the number of participants and engagements we encounter during the implementation of these suggestions as well as through our registration data. Another method is to compare past years data and trend with the current performance. We can also carry out post event surveys to check and evaluate our performances. We can also measure our performance through our social media usage and engagement in terms of our followers and their reactions to our posts. During the election period, we can monitor voter performance and constantly check if current performance is meeting our desired objectives. For post-election, the data will be available and will only speak for itself. Proper analysis of the data, will immensely contribute to improving future elections performances.
There are certainly debates and limitations hovering over the suggested approaches. There are risks involved. However, there needs to be developed a solid plan with quality controls in place. There needs to be up-to-date and accurate records to make better, informed decisions. Moreover, there are past trends and mistakes to learn from. As stated earlier, election is not just an event, it is a process, and we are certainly bound to make mistakes along the way. Nevertheless, we must continue to strive to continuously improve our processes so that we continue to deliver sustainable and credible elections.
Cite this essay
Elesi 1. (2019, Nov 23). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/elesi-1-example-essay