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Empowerment of young voters during annual National School Voter Registration Drive”

NewsLetter It was observed that women, youth and urban electors had lower participation in 2009 and earlier elections. There was and is an urgent need to empower the young and future voters as they are the future of democracy. Conducting elections, which are free, fair and peaceful, has been a priority for the Election Commission of India. The elections must, however, also be participative and festive as elections being the biggest festival for any democracy.
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 focuses of SVEEP programme. Various interventions were designed around the youth and the future voters (15 to 17 years age group), 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. The emphasis has also been on ‘Vote Right’, which implies that the voter must be ‘Proud to be a Voter’ and ‘Ready to Vote’.
The Systematic Program has three stages –1.Pre-Election Stage. 2. Stage during the conduct of elections and 3. Post-Election sage and these encompass informing the voter, educating the voter and facilitating the voter.

The major challenges for the Election Commission have been the use of muscle power and money power. There has been success in curbing the influence of muscle power in elections but the use of money power still poses a threat which needs to be countered and efforts are being made to overcome this challenge as well. Segmentation of voters for mapping of needs for special facilitation for different segments of voters like People with Disabilities (PWDs) etc is also an integral aspect.
Involving all and forming strong partnerships with different stakeholders is of crucial importance to strengthen the electoral participation. Media, civil society organisations, educational institutions can be great partners to propagate the voter culture. 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.

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.

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.The aim for all these initiatives is long term effect of motivating and encouraging children and youth for greater participation in voting.

Shri Umesh Sinha,
Deputy Election Commissioner of India