High number of invalid votes and low turnout prompt polling commission to organize voter education

The Election Commission has decided to conduct in-person and virtual voting education programs for the upcoming House of Representatives and Provincial Assembly elections to reduce the number of invalid votes.

In the absence of an adequate budget, the commission had used mainstream media and social media platforms to disseminate voting information ahead of the May 2013 local elections, avoiding door-to-door campaigns, seen as the most effective means of educating the electorate.

Invalid votes reached 13% in Metropolitan City of Kathmandu, Metropolitan City of Chitwan and Metropolitan City of Biratnagar for mayorships in recent local elections, while the total number of invalid votes stood at 3%. . The turnout in local elections was 70.9%, lower than previous local elections.

The commission says it has prepared a broad plan for voter education to be conducted virtually and by physically mobilizing educators.

“We have decided to conduct an extensive voter education program this time around,” Surya Aryal, deputy spokesperson for the commission, told The Post. “We have requested around 550 million rupees from the Ministry of Finance for this purpose.”

According to him, the progress of the voter education program will depend on the amount of the budget that the ministry releases.

In its conceptual framework, the commission decided to broadcast public service announcements from national and local radio and television stations, publish advertisements in newspapers and online news media, and develop content for Youtube. . Likewise, it also plans to spread information through different social media platforms.

As many as 18 million Nepalese have registered with the Electoral Commission to vote in the November 20 elections, in which 275 members will be elected to the House of Representatives and 550 to seven provincial assemblies.

In the House of Representatives, 165 will be elected by direct ballot and 110 by proportional ballot. Similarly, 330 members for the seven provincial assemblies will be elected by direct ballot and 220 by proportional ballot. There will be four different ballots, one for the proportional system and one for the first-past-the-post system for the provincial assemblies and the House of Representatives.

Aryal, who also oversees the commission’s voter education department, said he assessed that virtual support might not be available to all voters and that in-person activities are more efficient, so the commission is preparing. to mobilize volunteers at the neighborhood level. Volunteers will teach voters how to vote to ensure their votes do not become invalid.

The commission plans to mobilize nearly 7,500 volunteers for more than a month. Volunteers will reach as many homes as possible from the last week of September through Election Day to deliver information about the proper vote.

“Our goal would be to increase voter turnout and reduce the number of invalid votes,” Aryal said. “We designed the voter education program accordingly.”

On average, a turnout of 74.16% was recorded in the local elections which took place in three phases in 2017. The highest turnout recorded since the 1991 elections took place during the second Assembly constituent in 2013, when 78.74% of registered voters exercised their right to vote.

Experts say it is necessary to teach people how to register to vote, stamp the ballot with the symbol of the candidate of their choice, and properly fold the ballot before putting it in the urn. In many cases, people don’t even know that stamping outside the box for the particular election symbol renders a vote invalid, they say.

However, voting information alone is not adequate, it requires good voter education, according to Kapil Shrestha, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University.

“Giving information about how to vote is necessary, but voter education will be incomplete without telling people why to vote,” Shrestha, also chair of the National Election Observation Committee, told the Post. “Being able to enjoy the right to vote is a source of civic pride and an opportunity to elect the people to govern.

He said informing voters that every vote counts in elections and that their vote alone can be instrumental in whether a candidate wins or loses is the most important part of voter education.

Nepal’s invalid votes are several times higher than the normal threshold.

No less than 84 parties have registered with the commission for the November 20 federal and provincial elections.

Those who have worked as election observers say the commission was wrong not to conduct in-person voter education campaigns during local elections.

Pradip Pokharel, chairman of Nepal’s Election Observation Committee, said the commission appears to have realized the mistake and plans to mobilize the volunteers to reach voters this time.

“The higher percentage of invalid votes and lower voter turnout in recent elections show the need for an effective voter education program. The commission should not wait until the last moment to launch the program,” he told the Post. “Even political parties should conduct voter education by mobilizing their cadres and through mainstream media and social media.”

Parties and candidates can publish and broadcast their publicity materials in the media, but rigid provisions are in place in the electoral code of conduct prepared by the commission.

A political party may advertise advertising material up to one minute in length on both FM radio and television. Likewise, they can publish advertisements measuring 7 inches by 7 inches in a newspaper per day.

The same is true for election candidates.

“People can get a lot of information from advertisements. There must be restrictions on advertisements to stop extravagance,” Pokharel said. “However, these restrictions should not be so rigid that they discourage advertisements.”

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