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Global Knowledge Network On Voter Education - learning from each other

Empowering Young and Future Voters Investing in the Young

NewsLetter The national elections in India held in April-May 2014 witnessed historic voter turnout of 66.44%. Around 554 million voted in 2014 out of the 834 million who were registered as electors. This was a whopping increase in turnout over the previous national election in 2009 when India recorded a turnout of 58.19%. It was observed that women, youth and urban electors had lower participation in 2009 and earlier elections. Realising the gravity of this participation deficit in the electoral process, Election Commission of India launched a national voter education programme after the national elections in 2009 – ‘Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP)’. The participation challenges were identified as:
i. Gender gap
ii. Youth disconnect
iii. Urban apathy
Accordingly overcoming the ‘Youth Disconnect’ with the electoral process was one of the focus of SVEEP programme. Various interventions were designed around the youth, with additional gender focus within this segment, to remove any information gap and to facilitate youth participation in elections. Motivational campaigns were taken up to mobilise youth and encourage them to register in the electoral roll and vote in elections.

National Voters’ Day

In 2011, ECI initiated a practice to celebrate the ‘Voter’ on its foundation day, 25th January by celebrating it as National Voters’ Day. Since then the foundation day of ECI is observed every year as National Voters’ Day in every polling station location, at district and state headquarters. With the aim to give the younger generation a sense of responsible citizenship and to encourage them to exercise their new franchise, ECI felicitates the newly eligible registered voters in over 0.7 million polling station locations as part of the National Voters’ Day observance. They are handed over their Elector Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) and a badge with the slogan “Proud to be a Voter-Ready to Vote”. They also take an oath to strengthen democracy by taking part in the elections, which is now popularly termed as NVD Pledge. This forms the essential components of any NVD celebration. The national NVD function is held at New Delhi. Besides the three essential components, the national function also awards election officials for ‘Best Electoral Practices’. Partners and agencies who contribute to ECI’s efforts towards holding free, fair and participative elections are also felicitated at the national NVD function every year. The National Voters’ Day is being celebrated with great enthusiasm across the country along with a series of outreach measures ahead of NVD like symposiums, cycle rally, human chain, folk arts programmes, mini-marathon, competitions and awareness seminars. Most of these activities are targeted at youth.

Campus Ambassadors
Campus Ambassadors are appointed from among the students in Colleges and Universities to bridge the gap in youth electoral participation. The Campus Ambassadors identify students, teachers and non-teaching staff and their family members who are not registered in the electoral rolls and facilitate their registration in the Electoral roll in co-ordination with the election machinery. They assist election machinery to organize special drive for registration including correction of errors, transposition of names etc in the electoral roll. Campus Ambassadors facilitate inclusion of voter education in various co-curricular activities /festivals of the campus through different activities such as slogan writing, poster making, quiz, debate, essay writing, song, street plays etc and also help in organising National Voters’ Day programme in their campus besides acting as an educator and motivator in the family and neighbourhood and helping them in filling registration forms.

Engaging with Educational Institutions
Chief electoral Officers in the states have partnered with educational institutions, mainly colleges and Universities to reach out to the youth. College festivals, marathon runs, competitions like debates, plays, song composition etc have been successfully used to engage with students and disseminate electoral information among them. Special registration camps have been held in campuses to target newly eligible and young voters.

Partnership with Ministry of Youth and Departments
For reaching out to youth outside educational institutions, ECI has partnered with the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs and engaged various youth organizations affiliated with the Ministry. Special activities are planned with the youth organization for wide dissemination of information relating to electoral process. Special registration drives are held to include the youth outside educational institutions in the electoral roll. Sports competition in both rural and urban areas is among the popular activities taken up for engaging with these youth.

Use of popular media including FM Radio
Cinema slides, TV spots, hoardings have been widely used to appeal to youth. Besides interactive media like street play, flash mobs and similar activities which are popular among youth have been used to disseminate important information. FM radio is highly popular among the youth and it has been widely used by election managers to engage the youth with electoral process. Popular radio programmes and famous radio jockeys have included electoral awareness in their broadcast. Private FM Radio channels have held road shows ahead of elections in coordination with election machinery. Talk shows on radio have featured election officials to discuss various topics related to elections, interaction with voters have been arranged through phone-ins. Cartoon strips ‘Wah Election Wah!’ were used in dailies to stir the complacent young urban non-voters with wit and humour, while also disseminating information of how, where and when. Set in a train travelling through various parts of the country, the radio programme ‘Loktantra Express’ is also aimed at youth and uses song and speech, adding regional flavours to motivate listeners from different regions, age groups and sections to participate in the task of nation building by practicing their right to vote.

Use of Technology and Social Media
While mobile phone has high penetration in India, youth use the mobile phones for accessing various services besides just making calls. Special apps have been developed to facilitate voters and make enrolment easier besides accessing other information related to elections like locating polling stations, checking names on voter list besides getting SMS alerts for registration and voting. Other popular media like internet and social media are widely used for imparting electoral education and information and for mobilising young voters.

Physical Events and Activities
A variety of physical events and activities are taken up under SVEEP for motivation and mobilisation. Competitions like drawing, debates, declamations, quiz in educational institutions on elections and voting enthuse young people. Activities like local and folk art competitions are used for targeting young rural populace. Song writing competitions and Rock festivals in public places interest urban youth. Sporting events like kite flying, motor rallies, cricket tournaments, wrestling events, marathon runs, mass mobilisation events like rallies, human chains, and candle light vigils are utilized with good effect. Mock polls and dummy polling stations are effectively used to engage young people.

The task of enthusing and inspiring the disinterested and alienated citizens and address their apathy and skepticism to make possible their participation in the electoral process is imperative for greater electoral participation. It is crucial to associate a sense of pride with the right and duty of exercising one’s franchise. Identifying the ability of inspirational personalities to establish authentic connection with the masses, ECI associated with renowned Indians from various field enjoying national appeal and appointed them as ECI’s National Icons to motivate Voters. Similarly renowned individuals in states were appointed as State Icons. Celebrities popular among youth have been engaged by ECI to be ambassadors or Icons to motivate youth to participate in electoral process. While former President of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam who had mass appeal, could reach out pan India, sportsperson like M S Dhoni appealed to youth. Olympiad Saina Nehwal and Marykom are youth icons and especially had appeal among women. Actor Aamir Khan promoted informed and ethical voting message of ECI for clean elections.

Electoral literacy for Young Adults

ECI partnered with the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA) to take forward electoral literacy in the villages among young adults who are non or neo-literates. Electoral literacy content has been developed on all aspects of elections in form of flash cards and the same has been widely used by the election officials during the State and national elections.

Prospective or future voters
Under the third phase of the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation programme (SVEEP-III), one of the important target segments is prospective voters. These are the young people falling within the 15-17years age group and who are on the threshold of adulthood. Special interventions have been conceived to inculcate electoral literacy among young people through curricula and co-curricula in Schools. Special interventions are simultaneously planned for those in the same age-group and outside schools. The theme for 7th National Voters’ Day (NVD) is ‘Empowering Young and Future Voters’ and the same is the focus of ECI in the year 2017.

Electoral Literacy through Schools
State level Committees were set up in 2016 to assess the electoral literacy component in school curriculum and suggest additions, wherever required. The Committees have representation from State Education Board and election officials besides experts. A national working group has been set up which consists of members from Education Department, Academics, CSO working in the field of education, Experts and Election Officials to chalk out co-curricula content and activities on electoral literacy, which can be suitably included in schools and adapted to impart awareness among those outside schools.

Interactive School Engagement

This is one component under the initiative of outreach to future voters wherein the around 6000 Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) covered atleast one school within their constituency in January 2017 ahead of the 7th NVD and interacted with the students in 15-17 year age group (9th-12th standard). They responded to queries from the students on various aspects of elections and electoral polity. The ERO were equipped with a ‘Voter Education’ kit for their interaction with the school students. More than 600 District Election Officers (DEOs) and 36 Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) also covered atleast one school, within their district and State/UT respectively during the same period. Badges reading ‘I am the Future Voter of India’ and Brochure on ‘How to Register & Vote’ were distributed among the students.

Electoral Literacy for those outside Schools
The production and distribution of voter edutainment material for continuous education in an interesting and comprehensive manner was taken up in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2013. Focusing on consistent education and motivation, this project also takes from the concept of pyscho-social learning. After studying and identifying potential target group for each tool in the initial stage, a field test of the tools was also done to assure their effectiveness. Frequently asked questions (FAQ) related to the electoral process and other topics are pictorially depicted and discussed through the story of the brother-sister duo of Abha and Abhay in the colourful and easy-to-understand picture book ‘Garv se banein Matdata’, meant largely for new and semi literates, women and children. The board games ‘Vote Ki Baazi’ and ‘Ready Steady Vote’ designed upon the traditional board games using folk art and motifs but with the twist of voter education, imparts education in an interesting and engaging way.

Stories in Popular Children’s Magazines
Aiming at engaging the to-be voters and to catch them young, specific stories on voter education were taken up in popular children’s magazines Tinkle and Lotpot. While in Tinkle the trope of the jungle was used, popular characters Motu & Patlu appeared discussing voting related topics in Lotpot, in a pictorial, colourful and interesting way of cartoon-strip format to attract the readers. The initiative aimed at long term effect of motivating and encouraging children and youth for greater participation in voting.

Umesh Sinha
Editor-in-Chief, VOICE International
and Member Secretary, VoICE.NET