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Global Knowledge Network On Voter Education - learning from each other

International Conference on 'Strategies on Empowering Young & Future Voters', January 2017, India

1. In Conversation with Dr. Suad Arnautović Member,Central Election Commission of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

NewsLetter Dr. Suad Arnautović has a vast experience as a faculty as well as a member of the BiH Central Election Commission. He has published more than 20 scientific and expert papers in various scientific and professional magazines in BiH and abroad, as well as authored several articles, reviews, comments in dailies and weekly printed media. He was re-appointed as the member of the BiH CEC on September 22, 2011. In the period January 2008- May 2009, Dr. Arnautović was President of the BiH Central Election Commission. He shares with us his thoughts on harnessing of social media and engagement of political parties for creation of awareness:-

Q1. What are the initiatives taken for harnessing social media to encourage youth participation in elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
The Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina tries to set a new strategy towards young and first-time voters for every election cycle in order to increase their participation in the elections. The most frequently used tools are TV spots, radio jingles, billboards, leaflets, as well as ads in the daily newspapers. At the last 2016 Local Elections, the BiH CEC used the bizz boards for the first time. It was done in the way that we selected a certain number of young people, who promoted the significance of young people’s participation in the electoral process during their walks through the main streets of several cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately, the BiH CEC still does not actively use the social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram but it is set as our goal for the future.

Q2. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the biggest responsibility for promoting participation of youth in public and political life. How is this ensured that the political parties recognize this responsibility and actually works on it at the grass root level?
The Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have a direct legal obligation to conduct campaigns aimed at increasing participation of youth in the electoral process. However, having in mind social responsibility and the significance of young people’s participation in the development of our young democracy we find different ways through donors and sponsors to ensure funds necessary for the empowerment of young people and first-time voters for participation in the elections. In that context relations with the international non-government institutions are very important. On the other hand, the political parties in BiH have primary obligation to incite youth’s participation in this important democratic task in two ways: towards their supporters and members (young people) and towards young people who are neither their supporters, nor members. In this scenario, political parties, apart from awareness-raising activities, often put young people on the candidates’ lists amongst the first ten, both at local and general elections.

2. In Conversation with Ms. Shana Kaiser,Project Manager, International IDEA

NewsLetter Ms Shana Kaiser, Project Manager at International IDEA shares with us the challenges faced in Africa and how customization can enhance the implementation of best practices in other countries-

Q1. The use of knowledge resources and formal means of voter education is often highlighted and stressed upon. How can such resources help tackle external issues like electoral violence?
Knowledge is the root of countering violence in numerous ways. Voter education opens means for dialogue and discussion. One of the essential ways to do this is to by creating a mandate for the political parties to follow. Many times, the parties are not aware of how they need to operate along with the voters not being aware themselves. Voter awareness creates means for formal education and knowledge which creates a structured and smooth flow of electoral processes.

Q2. It has been increasingly said that today’s youth is less engaged in electoral processes than the previous generations. According to you, what seems to be the reason for this?
There is this paradox that has come about in existence now, leading to an apathy even as new tools to educate and make aware has appeared. It is critical to question that even though the platforms on social media that exist today are essential in increasing awareness, are they being used effectively? Till we do not utilize these platforms effectively, we will not be able to tackle this problem. The answer lies in not just dispersing knowledge, it lies in involving them and increasing their representation. Without the lack of representation, there will be disappointment and discontent amongst them. We need to empower them and give them the space to effect change.

Q3. Having worked with several issues in different countries, are there any issues that exist worldwide consistently?
That is a very broad question but I believe the issue of apathy in the youth is wide reaching and exists in many places. It is essential to not just give them the right to vote, but to give them the opportunity to influence policies, participate effectively and share experiences. Adults cannot make decisions for the youth. The youth can share their experiences and EMBs need to learn from those to design their future course of action.

3. In Conversation with Mr. Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission.

NewsLetter Mr. Tom Rogers was appointed the Australian Electoral Commissioner in December 2014, having acted as the Electoral Commissioner from December 2013.He shares with us how can the psychology of the youth helps in interacting with them-

Q1. We saw in the presentation by you that Australia has a very well planned program in place for the involvement and participation of the future voters through the ‘Get Voting’ program in which future voters are educated about the voting process through school elections. Is ethical voting also a part of this program?
No, we don’t engage ourselves in conducting any ethical voting programs for these groups as our primary objective is to educate future voters about the electoral process. The funds of the commission are allocated to three main areas namely, conduct of the election process, updation of the electoral roll and educating the voters about the voting process. Also, the political parties may feel that we are being too interfering if we indulge in conducting ethical voting programs. Hence, for the school initiatives we stick to educating them about the electoral process and ensuring that the target future voter group appreciates it.

Q2. As you might have experienced through such programs that the mind of the youth can be better understood by a youth. How do you tackle the challenge of interacting with the youth and understanding their psyche?
We do face this issue while interacting with the youth and future voters as the people working at the commission are way older than the target groups. To overcome this hurdle, we take help from many groups and volunteers who help us in interacting with them in a manner which is relevant to them. This not only helps in educating the voters in the manner and platform relevant to them but also in understanding what kind of initiatives work for them. Moreover, an integral part in this is also listening to indigenous youth who are the ones which are least represented in the electoral system. They are the target group for the Electoral Participation Program of the AEC in which they participate in the National Indigenous Youth Parliament. A democracy is where the voice of the smallest minorities is also heard and we have incorporated that in our system.

Q3. The future voters’ category has several sub-categories within itself. And as some form of awareness program which works with one age group might not work with another age group. What would be your inputs to handle these segments with respect to social media?
This is a critical issue which we face as the idea which you think might work with these groups may end up not creating any impact at all. It becomes even more relevant due to the high costs involved in advertisement campaigns. For this aspect we have collaborations with many market research companies. For example, we selected which advertisement to be run based on pilot test results of the alternate advertisement choices we had with the relevant target voter or future voter group.

4. In Conversation with Mr. Mohammed Saneem, Supervisor of Elections, Fijian Elections Office.

NewsLetter Mr. Mohammed Saneem has extensive experience in various aspects related to elections and he is currently the Supervisor of Elections for the Fijian Elections Office. Here he shares his views on topics ranging from ethical voting to collaborating with the education sector-

1. The rural and isolated schools have limited resources for getting relevant documentation for registration. How has Fiji tried to overcome them?
The main documentation for annual national school registration drive is only the birth certificate. The verification of students is done by the school teachers, therefore no photo ID is required. The registration forms are sent to each school in advance of the drive by FEO and registration teams carry registration forms with them to all venues.
To enrol in a school in Fiji, whether it is located in an urban or rural settlement, it is mandatory to provide a copy of the birth certificate to the school office. The Fijian Elections Office [FEO] liaises with the Ministry of Education and the schools beforehand to allow time for teachers to organise the birth certificates they have in their office. Due to the consistency of the repeat of this program, teachers are now familiar with their responsibilities.

2. It is important for the future voters to be targeted for registration and education. How is the disinterest of school management tackled to ensure their interest also lies in this direction also along with the routine school activities? Are special recognition given to schools which actively participate in the registration process?
The current process that the FEO follows for the national school registration drive is that a request is put forward to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education. When this request is approved by the Ministry, a directive is then sent across to the schools to facilitate accordingly. With the directive from the Ministry, all schools must adhere to the request. The FEO is currently in the process of developing a Memorandum of Understanding [MoU] with the Ministry of Education to strengthen the relationship between the FEO and the education sector. Having a MoU in place will be an important step noting that the national school registration drive is an annual event. Therefore, the drive will be scheduled directly in the school’s annual acedemic plan.

3. The initiative of using the voter card in multiple ways is a great way to motivate young voters to register. How do you ensure that along with these motivations, the aspects of ethical voting are also communicated to the young and future voters? 
The FEO has incorporated an information session into the school drive to create awareness on voter responsibility as well as provide information on the Fijian electoral processes. The sessions also highlight the importance of the Electronic Voter Registration [EVR] card in terms of election purposes.
These sessions are interactive, allowing for more electoral participation and involvement of youths in the electoral process.

5. In conversation with Mrs Samar Haj Hasan, Commissioner, Independent Election Commission, Jordan.

NewsLetter Mrs Samar Haj Hasan has been associated with the youth from a long time. She was elected as a board member at the Young Entrepreneurs’ Association in 2008 where she monitored the programs for young entrepreneurs and volunteered with a regional NGO to empower youth. In 2014, she was appointed by the king as a Commissioner in the Independent Election Commission and her appointment was renewed in April 2016.She shares with us how the Independent Commission of Jordan has harnessed the power of social media to engage the youth in the electoral process-

1. We are intrigued by the electoral query addressing mechanism implemented in Jordan whereby you were able to answer 97% of the questions and queries received by you in 6 minutes turnaround time. How were you able to achieve such an impressive query resolving mechanism?
It was difficult for us. We initially felt that the way all the queries received through various social platforms were not being addressed effectively. We then constructed a young team to look after this aspect. The team ensures that the queries are directed to the right person who, being an expert, takes a fraction of the time taken by anyone else to resolve the query. We also have an exhaustive question bank in place which ensures that the frequently asked questions are answered right away. This has helped us tremendously in reaching this standard and we have been able to answer queries in an effective and efficient manner with a high satisfaction rate.

2. As the electoral process in Jordan is new and in terms of awareness among the youth a lot may have to be done. How do you address the issue of interacting with the youth with respect to understanding their psyche?
We felt this issue while initially we were trying to communicate with the young and future voters during face to face interactions. However, we have been able to harness social media quite well to connect with the youth. It is the platform where they are comfortable in and also from where they want to interact. So, we take the help of social media extensively and we have also witnessed it working very well. We can see stark differences on the various social media platforms. The comments have turned from aggressive to a calmer tone now. Our motto is to listen to them even if they have negative things to say. Listening is extremely important and has been the integral part of our system.

3. As Jordan is quite young in terms of elections as mentioned in your presentation and paper ballot is being used now. Is Jordan looking towards Electronic Voting in future?
Yes we are indeed very young and our primary area of focus is to gain the trust and faith of the citizens. It is imperative that they believe in us and our processes. To ensure this we are trying to make our processes as transparent as possible. Electronic voting process may not be well perceived by the citizens are very reliable, transparent and tamperproof. So, we may eventually initiate electronic voting but only after ensuring that we have reached a level where we completely enjoy the trust and support of the citizens.

6. In Conservation with Mr. Arvind Venkataramana,Director,International Centre for Parliamentary Studies.

Mr Arvind Venkataramana, Director, International Centre for Parliamentary Studies shares with us his views on the subjects ranging from the impact of international seminars,youth apathy and political mistrust-

1. With several participating members of this international seminar, how do you think we can impact voter participation and activism across the world?
Conferences like these are not just formal platforms for knowledge sharing and for showcasing the progress of different Election Commission Bodies (EMBs). It is also an opportunity to informally interact and network with people across the world; in fact, it is especially that. In my opinion, certain aspects and learnings which we might not exchange through our formal means, can often be communicated and taught to us by the simple act of sharing a few words, with one another. And I strongly believe that it is these words that can probably help up the most to come up with the most innovative and practical solutions to our problems.

2. There has been a special emphasis on the utilization of theoretical and formal knowledge resources for promoting participation and awareness. How can these resources contribute towards challenges that exist externally?
It is of common nature of every human being to discuss and share ‘success stories’ much more than the challenges and hurdles we face. It is essential for us to realise that these hurdles and challenges are equally important during discussions as are the success stories. In my opinion, formal education and resources enables us to have group discussions and really talk about different aspects of any concept or idea. It gives us a more realistic view of how things work and communicate it well amongst our young and future voters.

3. Whilst working with different countries and overcoming different problems; have you noticed any trends common across the globe in terms of the much discussed ‘youth apathy’ towards voting and electoral participation? Or is it just a characteristic present in certain demographics and what are the reasons behind it?
Personally, I believe such characteristics vary across the globe and are present in specific demographics. Once, different EMBs communicate with one another the kind of problems they face and have to overcome, bringing about a plethora of solutions and lessons learnt worldwide. I think they are many reasons for the apathy that exists among young people today towards electoral participation. One of the most integral ones has to be a loss in trust in political parties today. Often, due to the lack of any prospectively good candidates, people often lose interest and reason to vote and participate.

4. In reference to your answer to the previous question, do you feel that the EMBs can do anything in a situation of political mistrust where good candidature is absent?
The role of the EMBs is to ‘facilitate’ electoral processes and this is one aspect where they cannot intervene in. If the people are unhappy with their options, they are welcome to approach their EMBs and stand for candidature themselves. Often, we blame democracy for the lack for suitable options and leaders, which is really unfair. Democracy is a phenomenal concept in itself. If I get a bad haircut, I cannot say that I will not have any more haircuts ever. I would probably change my salon. It is just like that.