Monday, February 25, 2013

Voter education: an opportunity for e-voting

Photo: Jan Lee
Voting is not a mechanical deed. It is the essential act that lays the foundations of Democracy, and therefore, it must be based on an educated choice. This means that all citizens have the right to know how an election works before casting their ballot. Voter education campaigns and efforts can help to engage and motivate the citizens and in doing so generate more participation.

Lack of information is one of the main reasons why people don’t attend the polling stations. This is true of any electoral platform. If people don’t know how to do it, they simply won’t. Since the authorities tend to believe that a centuries-old practice must be already deeply engrained in people’s psyche, there are no efforts to educate the electorate in the polling process. And what about new voters? Whose responsibility is it to introduce them to their role in their nation’s democracy? And above all, why assume that everyone should somehow know how to vote? 

The adoption of a new e-voting system in a country provides a unique chance to start over with a clean slate, that is, to do away with the conception that the election process is known by everyone. For this reason, it is vital to carry out all-pervasive education campaigns in order to bring the citizens to the polling stations and eliminate any doubts as to what to do when they get there. Venezuela achieved this with flying colors.

The implementation of e-voting in Venezuela was accompanied by drills, electoral fairs and media campaigns, which helped the electorate to become familiar with the new system. Every stage of the process was covered, and no region was left behind in the spread of knowledge of electronic suffrage. This caused the citizenry to feel included in the implementation process, and therefore the outcome was positive and voter turnout went on the rise. In fact, voters have taken only an average of one minute to vote with machines since their adoption in 2004, which attests to the success of the efforts to educate the citizens on their right to vote electronically.

It is natural for people to have doubts over the process of exerting their right to vote. The lack of electoral education is not a challenge, but an opportunity to engage people and to raise awareness on the importance of their participation in their country’s elections. Education on e-voting is education on democracy.