Voter education & registration

A lack of voter education & registration has led to widespread political apathy and low voter turnout. This has the impact of undermining the trust in and legitimacy of our democracies. Democracies ultimately derive their legitimacy from the participation of engaged citizens. Educating people about their voting rights and how to exercise them is therefore of great importance. In this edition of our blog series on voter participation, we take a look at voter education and registration.

The Importance of Non-Partisan Voter Education

One thing that’s crucial in providing voter education is that it remains non-partisan. State resources shouldn’t be used to promote a particular party or ideology. This would indeed subvert the fundamentally democratic principle that citizens enjoy a degree of freedom to make their own choices. Therefore, voter education should provide a dispassionate, objective explanation of what people need to do in order to vote. This would include information about:

  • The electoral system – how are representatives elected? Does the electoral system employ a first past the post system, a preferential system, or perhaps some form of proportional representation?
  • How to fill out ballots – fundamental to voters expressing their democratic choice correctly and avoiding mistakenly casting an invalid vote.
  • Voter registration – a key prerequisite to voting in many jurisdictions.

Voter Education & Registration: Automatic Election Day Registration

The final point above, voter registration, is in itself very important as it is often a requirement. Moreover, in countries such at the US and the UK, voters must register before a specific deadline in order to participate in most elections. Imagine turning up at the polling place on election day only to discover you cannot vote because you haven’t registered. Or discovering you cannot register because you’ve missed the deadline by a day or two!

To mitigate this risk, some countries have looked to different voter registration procedures which make life easier for voters. In Sweden and France, for instance, eligible voters are automatically registered. Sweden uses tax registration lists to generate electoral rolls, whilst France’s citizens are automatically registered once they turn 18. Moreover, in Canada, people can register to vote at the polling place on election day, instead of being told they cannot participate.

These measures should certainly be considered as means to boost voter participation. Next week we take a look at the impact of online voting on voter participation. Stay tuned!