Voter education is vital for strengthening democracy as this form of education helps increase voters’ turnout and reduce the number of invalid votes in an election considerably. Citizens can be well aware of their rights, political system as well as the entire electoral process when they get proper voter education. No election can be democratically successful when citizens do not understand their rights and responsibilities. A meaningful participation of all the voters — both disadvantaged and mainstream -- in the voting process alone can contribute to consolidating and institutionalising democracy. To ensure such participation in elections, they are also required to have proper knowledge about how, when and where to vote validly.
It is needless to reiterate that an effective voter education can be instrumental in making information available and accessible to the electorates. The responsible election authority need to implement voter education programmes in such a way that they assist in realising the universal coverage of voters. While launching such programmes, factors like rates of illiteracy and the use of languages are required to be considered well. Such campaigns should also focus on minority groups and marginalised communities. Although the literacy rate among women in Nepal has been increasing gradually, more efforts should be made to encourage them to participate in the voting process. As females make up more than half of the total population in the country, their active participation in the electoral process is very important.
Many young adults are also eligible to cast their ballot this time. Statistics indicate that as many as 3.5 million such persons are qualified for voting as first-time voters. As new voters, they definitely require much information about how to cast a ballot. So, voter education campaigns must target them in order to motivate them to actively take part in the voting process and cast votes faultlessly.
It is also imperative for people to have better access to civic education as well. Being a broader concept, this type of education provides people with knowledge about the system of government, the nature and powers of the offices to be filled in an election, the value of democracy, people’s rights and gender issues. Besides, citizens also come to know about major economic, social and political concerns of the nation from civic education. It can play a crucial role in creating an egalitarian society by eliminating gender-related issues and other social evils. It can help enhance women’s image in the society and thus increasing their participation in politics. It also brings about changes in the society’s perception towards the poor, disabled and socially underprivileged communities.
In addition, an effective voter and civic education motivates youths to get involved in political and social activities. When self-motivated, energetic and well-educated youths are voted to power, they are more likely to work towards leading the nation to the path of overall development and prosperity. Such leaders may also possess a vision for and commitment to establishing good governance in the country. Civic and voter education could be helpful for taking the nation out of the grip of those politicians who have failed to prove their mettle despite having opportunities to rule the nation for many times. Thus, deserving candidates may win elections with the promotion of appropriate voter and civic education.
The Election Commission (EC) has already initiated in-person as well as virtual electorate education programmes targeting the forthcoming elections to the House of Representatives and Provincial Assembly slated for November 20. It has come up with this idea to boost voters’ turnout and minimise the number of invalid votes. The election body seems to have realised the need for a more effective voter education from not-so-encouraging participation of voters in the local elections held on May 13 this year when voter turnout stood at just 70.9 per cent.
The figure is much lower compared to the participation of voters in local polls held in 2017. The EC had not conducted door-to-door campaigns to educate voters during the recent local polls. However, it is notable that as many as 78.74 per cent of voters had exercised their voting rights in the second Constituent Assembly (CA) election held in November 2013. The number of invalid votes was 13 per cent in the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Bharatpur Metropolitan City and Biratnagar Metropolitan City for the mayoral positions in the May 13 local elections. However, the number of total invalid votes was three per cent nationwide.
Four ballot papers
More than 18 million voters have been registered with the EC to cast their ballot in the November 20 polls. A total of 275 members of the House of Representatives (HoR) and 550 members of seven Provincial Assemblies are going to be elected for five years. Of the total HoR members, 165 are elected under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system while the remaining 110 members are chosen through the proportional representation (PR) system. In the provincial Assemblies, 330 members are elected on the basis of the FPTP category while the rest 220 through PR system. It means that voters will have to use four diverse ballot papers. In such a situation, voters are likely to be confused while voting if they have not received an effective voter education.
With many party candidates as well as independent contestants for the upcoming polls filing their candidacies for the impending polls, voters might face difficulty in casting their ballot. Therefore, the political parties and civil society members also need to join forces with the poll authority for carrying out voter education campaigns across the nation in a more efficient manner.
(Dahal is a Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)