Voter Awareness

Elections require citizens to participate in the electoral process and to make an informed decision when voting. Elections imply decision-making, and democracy implies actively participating. Decision-making and active participation are based on information, skills, values and practices, which have to be provided to the entire voter population. Voter information, awareness and education campaigns provide voters with the knowledge, skills and values to do this.

There is, however, a common misunderstanding regarding use of the terms voter information, voter awareness and voter education. While these concepts are inter-related and complementary (and can occasionally overlap), they need to be distinct when designing specific activities and programs to avoid confusion and ambiguities. There are crucial differences between these concepts and their application: (a) voter information enables eligible citizens to vote, including basic facts about the elections and voting; (b) voter awareness addresses voters’ motivation and preparedness to participate fully in elections and aims to increase trust in the electoral process. This includes the secrecy of the ballot, the value of each vote, freedom of choice and the impact of voting on public accountability; (c) voter education refers to a longer-term pedagogical process involving more complex information, including why the electoral process is important and necessary, the link between human rights and voting rights, the relationship between elections and democracy and the conditions necessary for democratic elections. Such concepts involve explanation, not just a statement of facts.

The distinction between these concepts is not merely “academic”: they are essential when deciding on concrete actions and programs, because they help determine the scope of the programs, clarify the contents of messages, define the timing and duration of the efforts, identify appropriate strategies and, not least, to determine who should be involved in efforts to promote them.

It is often assumed that the responsibility for informing, motivating and educating voters is the sole responsibility of the electoral authorities. In this debate, only one thing is the subject of almost complete agreement: development of voter information messages is the exclusive responsibility of the electoral authorities. What is required is the production and delivery of official messages, bearing the stamp of the authorities. The extent to which an electoral authority moves beyond basic voter information into the realm of awareness and education is determined by their legal mandate and the operational capacity and available resources to become involved and, therefore, the situation differs in each country. In some countries, the electoral management body (EMB) is mandated to conduct not only voter awareness activities but also voter education; in others the EMBs are limited to provide voter information within very restricted guidelines. In many countries, voter education is an integral part of broader civic education programs, with or without the active participation of the electoral authorities.

As mentioned, in Vanuatu the electoral law mandates the VEO to provide information to voters and the public in general. While developing the contents of voter information is the responsibility of the EC and VEO, they can be supported in the transmission of those messages by various stakeholders, always under the oversight of the electoral authorities to avoid misinformation and misunderstandings.

The EC and VEO recognize that voter information and awareness should target all possible electors, and many of its activities are conceived in this light. Nevertheless, they are also aware that certain groups of population, which have traditionally been marginalized voters, require specific information and awareness efforts, in order to promote inclusiveness in the electoral process. In order to be credible, an election is required to include all various population groups as equitable partners. Active participation of all segments of society in political processes is an indispensable aspect of a strong democracy. In this context, the EC and VEO make special information and awareness efforts targeting women, youth and people with disabilities.

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