Maximising youth voting ­­­ By: Parul Purwar


Table 3: west European countries with compulsory voting, courtesy CEPS Working Document No. 317/July 2009, Anthoula Malkopoulou



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Table 3: west European countries with compulsory voting, courtesy CEPS Working Document No. 317/July 2009, Anthoula Malkopoulou


From the above case studies and data we can conclude that compulsory voting results in larger voter turnout. But is it in accordance with the principles of democracy?

Weighing the pros and cons of compulsory voting in a democracy

Even though compulsory voting has been extremely successful in increasing the voter turnout it still has not been adopted in most democratic countries. This results in a higher sample of a public opinion and that it ensures that the politicians make their policies keeping the majority in mind.

The reason for this is that it is not democratic to force people to vote, and it represents the failure of democracy.

The other arguments against compulsory voting are that it rewards dishonest voters who turn up and vote just for the sake of voting. They will not make the proper decisions. This will result in meaningless votes. At best they will vote randomly which will disrupt the proper course of voting. Compared to countries which don’t have compulsory voting, in countries where such law exists there is n increase in donkey votes (where voters simply choose voters candidates at the top of the ballot), protest votes and absentations. There reason behind some people not turning up to vote is because they neither care nor know about politics. Forcing them to vote will not do their country much good.

Forcing the population to vote will not stop people expressing their distaste for voting. In Australia 5% of eligible voters did not caste a valid vote. Most countries that have compulsory voting also give a legal opportunity for the voters to abstain. In Australia valid explanations might include being overseas or belonging to the religious order which prohibits voting. Compulsory voting hides the problem which is causing people to not vote. it allows politicians to ignore the real cause behind people not voting. Rather than fixing the problem it allows them to pass around it.

Young voter registration and turnout trends in America

Since 1972 when 18-20 year olds started voting, the voter turnout among 18-29 has decreases from 55% to 40 % in 2000. However it has risen to 49% in 2004.It also rose from 1988 to 1992 by 6 %. [20]

There was the MTV’s “Rock the Vote” registration campaign aimed at young voters. It played in simulating the younger generation of voters. VRS estimates that the turnout within the 18-29 age groups arose by around 20 % from 1988. [21]

Using music, popular culture, new technologies and grassroots organizing for more than 20 years, Rock the Vote has registered more than 5 million young people, including a record-shattering 2.5 million registration downloads in the historic 2008 election. In 2010, Rock the Vote logged nearly 300,000 voter registration downloads as part of the largest midterm election outreach strategy in the organization’s history.

Data released by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that the turnout rate of 18-24 year old voters in the 2004 presidential election rose by 5.8 percent, as 1.8 million more people in this age group voted than in 2000. [22] In 2004 10.5 million under-25 voters went to the polls, compared to 8.7 million in 2000, raising the turnout rate to 42.3 percent from 36.5 percent. 21 million voted an increase of 4.6 million over 2000. The turnout rate among 18-29 year olds rose by about 9.3 percentage points, from 42.3 % to 51.6%

Passage of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) in the spring of 1993 represented a permanent increase on turnout. It was designed so as to reduce the cost of voting by applying individual data when applying for social assistance of getting a driving license. The “motor vehicle” nickname came from the idea that most data was accumulated from people getting their license renewed or made.

The NVRA requires states to provide people with an opportunity to submit voter-registration applications for federal (i.e., House, Senate, and Presidential) elections by three principal means. One is by registering to vote at the same time that they apply for, or seek to renew, a driver's license (hence the name “motor voter”); second is sending their forms using mail, these forms are jointly developed by each state and the Election Assistance Commission; and by requiring states to offer voter-registration opportunities at all offices that provide public assistance of any kind. This act is credited with the increase in American voter turnouts. [23]

Britain

Like the other western European countries the voter turnout has been declining in the United Kingdom’s. From a healthy 72.55 % in 1945 has sunk to a miserly 65.77 % in 2010. The voter turnout decreased by almost 12 % since the last elections.

Many schools of thoughts have arisen to explain the voter turnout. One is the theories of rational choices. It says that people will turn up to vote only when they believe that the benefit of such an action is more than the cost of that action. It is argued that the benefits of voting for elections, if averaged out for each individual are infinitesimal, while the cost though not much is not trivial either.

Sociological theories say that socio- economic characteristics affect the political behaviour of the people. People who are unhappy with their lot and want changes vote more. Social factors may influence turnout by limiting the access of voters to political information and may affect their party identification. Also people who haven’t been a part of political activities are less likely to vote.
Even thought the voter turnout has been decreasing over all, some constituencies have shown an encouraging trend. These constituencies have localised efforts to increase the voter turnout levels and this has had an encouraging response.

A few initiatives that stood out at a local level were Sw!tch ID, and the Worthington ice rink. Sw!tch ID is a youth group in Dagenham. It is working on changing the negative view that the youth has about their politicians. In the general election 2010 the youngsters aged 11-18 years became concerned about the low turnout in their area. So, about 50 young people decided to get involved to raise the participation. They produced maps of how to get to the polling stations and went door to door requesting people to vote and use their maps. During the course of this endeavour the youngsters were also made politically aware. This resulted in a higher turnout in the elections as compared to the previous years.

Tim Loughton, the constituency MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Children and Families, wanted to prove that politicians are affected and concerned about the issues that affect young people. The Worthington Youth Council carried out a research in 2008, into what the local people wanted in the area. Having heard the young people’s research, Tim Loughton MP then wrote to higher authorities about the peoples need for an ice rink. Together the young people and the MP lobbied the council, through meetings and the Town Centre Initiative, working with local businesses, and secured £80,000 for the ice rink to be in the town for a month in February 2009. This enhanced the ties between the youth voters and the MP. They felt that their choice of an MP actually made a difference. This contributed to them going out to vote as they felt a sense of responsibility.

Another way to increase awareness and promote engagement of young people in general election was to use social sites such as Facebook. Instead of having pages targeting the entire country, these pages should be region specific. An instance is the following, a group of young people who were involved in the North Somerset Youth Parliament were keen to see a change of MP in their constituency and so decided to try and engage first time voters in supporting the campaign for their local liberal democrat candidate through the development of a Facebook group. So, they set up a Facebook campaign and invited people to discuss.



Debate on Facebook varied from student fees to services for young people with autism. Youngsters posted their own views on what they wanted to see from politicians in relation to these issues as well as asking direct questions of candidates. The political candidate posted information about when posters were being distributed, giving times and details of where to meet if any young people were willing to join in; reminders about the leadership debates on TV were put onto the Facebook wall to encourage young people to learn more about the policies of each political party. The local college invited three political candidates to a debate and the politics class then carried out a before and after poll and posted the results on the Facebook group. This method proved popular. [24]

Looking at Electoral Reforms

Electoral reforms in India are required so as to strengthen the countries democratic foundations. Introducing these reforms is imperative to tackling problems such as black money and corruption. Electoral reforms are needed to increase the accountability of politicians.

An increase in accountability of politicians will automatically lead to a larger voter turnout. As previously mentioned in the report, voters don’t vote because they think their vote will have no weight and also that there is no good choice among the candidates. If the reforms get implemented then the viewpoint of voters is bound to change. The elections will be more transparent and every vote will count.

These reforms have been Electoral reforms have been engaging the attention of the Parliament, the Government, the Press and also the Election Commission for a long time. Election commission has been regularly working in the area of electoral reforms and has proposed a few.

I have briefly put down those suggestions that I find are relevant to my project and will help in bringing about voter awareness, and hence increasing the voter turnout.

1 )Information in affidavits:

According to Section 33A of the Representation of the People Act, each candidate has to file an affidavit in form 26, which gives information about any pending cases and those in which the candidate has to face punishment for more than 2 years. Cases of conviction for an offence other than any of the offences mentioned in Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and sentenced to imprisonment for one year or more. In addition to this a candidate has to give information regarding his assets and liabilities, and his educational qualifications. The suggested reform is that all this information should be include in one form and this form should also include a candidate’s annual declared income for taxes.

In case a candidate furnishes wrong information, according to Section 125A he is either fined, or given a six months imprisonment or both. The suggested amendment says that the punishment should be more stringent, a fine of 2 years and also that the alternative clause for fine should be removed.

2) The past the post system should be abolished

In the general elections of India it has been observed that the wining candidates get around 20-40 % of the votes polled. In other words the defeated candidate’s together poll around 60-80% votes. This shows that the candidate who has won is not a representative of the majority. To overcome this, two different types of reforms have been proposed by researchers. One is to adopt the proportional representation system. The other is to have a second election between the two candidates who have obtained the maximum number of votes in the first round will fight in the second round. Whoever between the two gets more than 51 per cent of the total votes polled in the second round I should be declared the winner.

Both of the suggestions have a problem in implementation though. The proportional representation system is workable in India only if the political parties adopt a democratic way of choosing their leaders. A variation of this could be single transferable vote, or the mixed member proportional as adopted in New Zealand.

A problem with the second option is that the voter turnout might be less for the second round and also the extra expenses involved in conducting the second round.

3) Increasing the security deposit

A proposal to increase the security deposit was put out by the ECI to discourage to decrease the number of independents standing in the elections. The recently held elections showed an increasing trend in the number of candidates standing. Too many candidates were not serious and they just increased the load on the election machinery. Hence the ECI proposed an increase in the deposit money. It wants an amendment which will allow it to fix the deposit money before every election.

4) Restriction on number of seats that a candidate can contest from

As per the law as it stands at present [Sub-Section (7) of Section 33 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951], a person can contest a general election or a group of bye-elections or biennial elections from a maximum of two constituencies.

This law should be amended so that a person can only contest from one constituency at a time.

5) Use of common electoral rolls in the union and state elections

In the present scenario different rolls are used for the assembly and general elections. This leads to discrepancies in the electoral roll. The effort and expenditure that is involved in making two lists for similar purpose will be greatly reduced.

6)Exit Polls and Opinion Polls

Many agencies conduct polls before the elections on the plausible voting pattern and they publish and disseminate these surveys among various media agencies. Similarly on the day of polls, results are being predicted by interacting with the voters and collecting information. These surveys known as exit polls are published and show after the close of the polls. During a single day polling this does not have much effect. However, in man general elections, poll has to be staggered over different dates mainly for law and order and security related reasons.

Hence publishing the results of the exit polls might influence the voting pattern .similarly the opinion poll may influence the minds of the electors. The Election Commission has been of the view that there should be some restriction or regulation on the publishing / dissemination of the results of opinion polls and exit polls. The Election Commission had issued some guidelines in this regard in 1998. This was challenged in petitions before Courts and subsequently on the observation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court that the Election Commission did not have the power to enforce the guidelines; the same were withdrawn by the Election Commission.

7)Negative Voting/Neutral voting

in India we currently have the rule 49-O. this rule says that an elector does not want to vote then after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in form 17 –A , and he has put his signature or thumb impression as required . Then a remark saying that he does not want to vote can be made against the said entry, by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the concerned voter will be taken. This rule just records the dissent; no action as such can be taken against the candidates standing even if the dissent vote is more than 51 percent.

This should be, modified to ensure that if such a scenario occurs then all the candidates standing should be barred from contesting that elections and a bye election should take place.

Also the option of not voting or neutral voting should be included on the EVM. This would reduce the confusion regarding this option. There have been instances when the presiding officer was not aware of the rules and regulations to be followed. This caused a lot of confusions and delays during the voting procedure.

8) Compulsory maintenance of accounts by political parties and audit by agencies specified by the election commission:

This proposal was first made in 1998.It was felt that there is a need to bring more transparency into the collection of funds by political parties. Even though a condition has been made that every political party is supposed to prepare a report on the contribution it receives which are in excess of Rs20,000 , it has not been sufficient . Therefore the parties should routinely publish their accounts, for the scrutiny of public and all concerned. The auditing can be done by any firm of auditors which have been approved by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

4.2. Finding from the fields and impact on the theoretical focus of the project:

What Influences the voter?

In a country as diverse as India various factors come into play when a person votes. These factors not only influence the voter’s decision of who to vote but also whether to vote.



Socio- Economic Background

About 72% of Indians live in the rural areas and 10 per cent of rural households are reported to be landless. Based on the country’s new official poverty lines, 42 per cent of people in rural areas and 26 per cent of people in urban areas lived below the poverty line in 2004/05. [21]These people are targets for politicians. They form a majority of vote bank in India.

The rural India is revving up for a change and as mentioned and statistically shown in the previous chapter they participate more in the elections than their urban counterparts. Income also has a role to play. Those with higher income choose to not vote. They are reasonably well off and since to an average citizen the other one government is like the other voting does not have any utility for them. On the other hand those with lower income and in rural areas are targeted by the politicians and governments while making their schemes. The only way in which they can improve their condition is by voting for a candidate who favours them. Hence in India people in rural areas and those with lesser income participate more in elections.

Caste and Religion

Caste provides an extensive basis for organization of democratic politics. In a society such as India where caste remains a way for social organization and activity, it identifies and builds solidarity among people. Caste however issued more extensively in mobilizing support in rural than urban areas. In urban areas regional and language identities, or class and professional occupations, or consideration of the government policies and performances are often more salient as influences than caste. Communities are differentiated on the basis of economical dimensions; this difference is targeted by candidates to generate votes. . Parties like BSP and RJD, which came to power by mobilizing lower castes, have failed to offer much in the way of good governance or long-term social transformation. Once some lower-caste groups gain access to power, they then seek to confine those privileges to their sub-caste.

Similarly religion also has a role to play in the Indian Politics. Many Indian historians date religion's role in Indian politics back to the colonial period and the 1909 British policy of establishing separate electorates based on religion. However, in the 1980s, several events worked to bring religion to the forefront of electoral politics, say experts: rising Sikh fundamentalism followed by anti-Sikh riots after the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Since then, both the Hindus and the country's 170 million Muslims, the largest minority group, are courted energetically by political parties. Religion is part and parcel of Indian political life.

But the emerging generation of India is not much influenced by caste and religion. They judge the worthiness of a candidate an then they choose him. This is an encouraging trend and will benefit the country .Thus it’s imperative that more and more youngsters participate in the elections.



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