For most voters the idea of voting is merely restricted to three primary items: a polling station, a ballot paper and a ballot box. This is especially true for first time voters, whose excitement to caste their vote is often more pronounced than their understanding of the many steps that ought to be considered before and after entering the inside of a polling station.
Much like most first-time voters, my first experience of casting my vote (which should have ideally taken under half an hour) became a three hour ordeal! This happened simply because I had convinced myself that knowing the election symbol of my candidate was all there was to voting – and boy was I wrong!
To help voters in general and young or first time voters in particular, this blogpost will discuss three important questions, i.e. “What is voter education?”, “Why is voter education important” and “What methods are available in Pakistan to facilitate anyone who wants to learn about it?”
Let’s start with answering the first question. Simply put voter education is any effort made by the Election Commission of Pakistan or public or private entity that aims to enhance the understanding of voters of electoral rolls, encourage them to check their details on the Final Electoral Rolls (FER) and supports in improving the voter turnout.
Voter Education is imperative for creating awareness amongst voters of all ages, belonging to all walks of life in order to increase their overall participation. Efforts geared towards Voter Education are often positioned to include the training of general masses, on several aspects of the elections – from campignig to casting the vote.
In the past, Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) efforts for Voter Education were mainly grounded in providing information through conventional print and electronic media, commencing shortly before electoral events and ending immediately thereafter. However, low voter turnout in previous elections highlighted the acute need for a different plan of action. Accordingly, in the recent General Elections held in 2013, we saw that ECP shifted strategy from merely disseminating Voter Information to developing more holistic Civic and Voter Education programs.
And this brings us to our third question, i.e. “What methods are available in Pakistan to facilitate anyone who wants to learn about it?” The ECP’s Voter Education Plan 2012-2013 revolves around a district centered approach, where staff at district offices become important actors responsible for implementing grassroots level voter education activities. Their aim is to directly reach out to all eligible voters, i.e. youth, women, people with disabilities, minorities and men. These groups are important because of their numbers and in most cases also because of their marginalized social status that often excludes them from exercising their right to Adult Franchise.
District Committees use a variety of means to approach and educate different categories of voters. These methods include, District Committee meetings held with community representatives, trainings for school, college and university staff; community voter awareness raising activities; Information Sessions at the offices of Provincial and District Election Commissioners; development and dissemination of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials; public service announcements and media engagement.
In our next blog we’ll discuss all the above mentioned methods, how individual voters can access these resources and benefit from them. Keep reading!