Civic and Voter Education

The Election Commission has the mandate to provide voter education and collaborate broadly with political parties, the media, universities and schools to reach out to the public and remind people of their duty to vote. During the last week before July 3rd, rallies organized to encourage voter turnout were held in many provincial capitals. However, the types of voter education differed by province as it remained in the hands of the provincial ECT boards to manage voter education activities. Unfortunately, the ECT failed to inform non-resident voters sufficiently about the need to re-register in their home provinces in case they had registered to vote elsewhere in 2007, resulting in many disenfranchised and disappointed voters.

In reality, political parties and the media played an important role in voter education since efforts by the ECT, while well intentioned, were not enough to adequately reach out to all parts of the country. Among the media, television and radio coverage, and some newspapers, covered the race and some of its issues, giving voter information about campaign platforms, Election Day, and the political/civic issues of the day.

The most glaring failure of voter education was related to the advanced voting day changes implemented since 2007. Parliament decided to tweak the rules for advance vote registration, leaving advance voters from 2007 on the advance voter list for 2011. This was a significant change that would require many of 2007’s advance voters to re-register in their home provinces if they wished to vote in their normal residence. Reminding everyone that the change was out of their control and initiated by parliament, the ECT claimed that it realized the change could be a problem. Realizing this, the ECT said they did their best to educate the electorate on the changes so that people didn’t lose their right to vote if they had moved or returned to their home province since 2007. The media was also culpable in that coverage of this significant issue was inadequate until after advance voting day when it was clear that up to 2.5% of the electorate had lost their right to vote on Election Day because they’d unknowingly been left on the advance vote list.

Despite whatever efforts were made by the ECT and the media, they must nevertheless share the blame for inadequately educating voters on this change. While it is true that much of the blame for the advance vote problems lies with parliament for their original decision, it is nevertheless true that the ECT should have done more, either through the media or through consultation with parliament, to prevent the massive disenfranchisement that occurred because of these failures of policy and voter education.

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