Mon | Oct 22, 2018

ECJ eyes students to improve turnout at future polls

Published:Saturday | May 26, 2018 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines/Gleaner Writer

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) has signalled its intention to distribute its democracy passport to students from as early as grades five and six. This is in a bid to achieve consistently high voter turnout in future elections and overall greater participation in the democratic process.

Launched in September 2016, the democracy passport is a source of information and guidance relating to our electoral process, the role of each citizen, and his/her individual power to effect change.

Budgetary constraints have almost prevented the wide-scale printing of the eight-page document, but the agency is hoping to make headway well in advance of the 2021 elections through sponsorship and partnership.

"Ideally, it's the adults that we want to get, but we feel that we have to start with the students from now. We can't wait until they're older," said Daynia Harper, ECJ public education officer, during a Gleaner Youth Forum at the company's North Street offices in downtown Kingston on Thursday.

"It's hard to bend a tree when it's old, but young people's minds are fresh, and if we can start to influence them and have them influence their parents, we feel that it will go a far way," she added.

The initial thinking behind the passport was for each newly registered voter to be given a copy of the document upon picking up his/her voter ID card. The agency was seeking to not only distribute the nifty public education tool to primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions, but also to the HEART Trust academies.

"We wanted to go through the Ministry of Education to assist us with the printing, but that hasn't come off the ground yet," said Harper.

She pointed out that the ECJ had been sharing details of the document with schools by providing samples to students and staffers as well as promoting it heavily online.

Daynia Harper, public education officer at the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), has argued that the ideal method to achieve an upturn in voting and foster a greater appreciation for local democracy is to distribute the democratic passport in large numbers.

"It's not about being a registered voter and going out to a polling station. It's about being an active citizen. We're saying to people, participate in the democratic process, not just go out to vote," Harper explained, although underscoring the importance of voting to elect representatives to a Parliament and local authorities.

"We made sure to put Jamaica's history as it relates to voting in the [democracy passport] document because if we can appreciate the strides that we've made to be able to vote today, then we might take it [right to vote] more seriously," Harper said.

"We want students to embrace the booklet, not look at it as something to just put in [their] back pocket. They used to have a Student's Companion. We want it to be like a democratic companion: you walk with it as a reminder that whenever you're of voting age, you're going to take it seriously," she contended.