A campaign to encourage young people to participate in the electoral process was launched here on Tuesday October 6, 2020 at the NIS conference room. The campaign – Voice Yo Choice, is youth-led and nonpartisan. The campaign is coordinated by Mr. Franz George, Chevening Scholar, and Caribbean and Americas Region Representative of the Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC).
The rest of the team comprises of Founder and Executive Director of SPARK SVG, Nafesha Richardson; newly appointed Male CARICOM Youth Ambassador for St. Vincent and the Grenadines– Mr. Shafique Sam; Devonte Peters, Utamu Rose, and Ronelle King. The lifeline of the first stage of the campaign will be determined by the announcement of the 2020 election date, while the second stage will begin after the elections and will focused on educating Vincentian youth on how to be responsible citizens in the post-election context.
At the press conference, Founder and Executive Director of SPARK SVG, Ms. Richardson said “this campaign was created by youth, for youth and the message to young people is simple: we want you to own your vote because it’s yours, so be sure to use it at the next general election and voice your choice”.
She said the campaign is similar to other youth voter education campaigns that have been conducted in the region, as young people have been calling for more discussions on the electoral process. She said for instance in Guyana there was the ‘Vote Like ah Boss” campaign in 2015 which was rebranded earlier this year to the “Ink it Up” campaign. She also said that the “Youth Voice Matters” campaign has been done in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica and is currently being done in Belize.
“So, we a vibrant group of youth leaders and youth advocates decided that we had to bring this type of discussion to our shores. This team decided to restore a sense of gratitude and acknowledgement to our democratic history as a nation. We decided that we can’t take this right that our forefathers fought for and some died for, for granted,” Richardson said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Shafique Sam outlined the significance and the benefits to youth, when they vote.
“Youth have brought their own agendas and style to Caribbean politics. And research shows that as part of a further enlarged electorate since the 1970’s, the youth have been an important part in determining which party wins. Demographically, the Caribbean has a high youth percentage and hence that number shapes and highly influences the political process,” Mr. Sam said.
Sam said some of the benefits of youth voting include promoting political stability, high overall voter turnout, ensuring youth have political influence and helping to socialize the next generation.
Sam said it important that youth vote because voters help to shape a political system, voters force governments and parties to adjust their behaviour in order to win votes. Parties develop ideologies and governments pursue policies that seek to meet the needs of voters
“There are narratives that say the voter responds to the system. We would like to say that the system responds to the voters and by having more meaningful and educated and engaged youth voters we then would see responses from parties, from individuals and from the society that reflects this”. He said if there is a low youth voter turnout, youth may be neglected in policymaking, and policy outcomes. “Essentially, by not participating, we are not giving our voice to the issue, we are not meaningfully engaging in a maximum way possible and to prevent our concerns, our issues as youth from being neglected, we must voice that choice, we must participate” – Mr. Sam said.
He said that in St. Vincent, though observer reports on the 2015 general election state that there was enthusiasm among youth voters in attending campaign rallies and events of political parties, there is still a need for greater voter education among youth.
Another member of the campaign committee, youth leader – Utamu Rose said research will be undertaken by the team and a survey will be released soon to gain insight into youth perceptions on the electoral process. He said that in addition, the results of the 2020 general election will be looked at by the research team of the campaign, on the backdrop of previous elections. He said that monitoring and evaluation will be done to see how successful the campaign was in encouraging youth participation in the electoral process.