Voter Education and Information
Last updated on December 17, 2013
Voter education and information are critical elements in building voters’ confidence in newly introduced technologies. EMBs should be strategic and proactive in providing information on how to vote, how the overall system works, why the new technology has been adopted and methods to ensure the system’s integrity. Voter education strategies should consider the target audiences and use different types of outreach methods based on how different segments of voters commonly access information. Particular consideration should be given to targeting groups, such as voters with disabilities, and rural and elderly voters, that may be less comfortable with technology. It is also important to provide opportunities for voters to try out the new voting equipment in person. Election observers have a responsibility to assess the adequacy and effectiveness of voter education efforts and make recommendations on how any identified gaps can be filled.
Experience has demonstrated that due consideration of voters’ level of awareness about and confidence in the new technologies is key to the success of any electronic voting or counting system. It is not enough for voters to know how to vote using this new technology; they must also have confidence in the integrity of the technology that is being used. Providing voters with the information necessary to cast their votes using a new system efficiently and with confidence requires a comprehensive approach to voter education and public outreach. Such efforts should therefore start as early as possible and continue until results are certified.
The main responsibility for informing and educating voters rests with the EMB. As part of its overall strategy for introducing electronic voting and counting, the EMB should have an accompanying plan for educating and informing voters including the allocation of sufficient resources to meet these requirements.
A public outreach strategy should include detailed information about how to vote, as well as how the overall system works. The strategy should consider the target audiences and use different types of media (TV, radio, press, Internet) based on the country context and, in particular, the mediums through which different segments of voters most commonly consume information. Voters should also have an understanding of the reasons why the new technology is being adopted, how it will be implemented and what mechanisms have been included to ensure its integrity. EMBs should be proactive in providing such information, in order to demonstrate transparency and build public trust in the system.
The EMB’s public outreach plan should also include strategies for how to react to stakeholder comments or media stories about the voting and counting technology that might not be accurate or that might cast doubt over the technology in some way. Particularly in the age of 24-hour news and viral social media, media officers have to be ready to provide any necessary clarifications at short notice. By responding quickly to critical stories about the voting or counting system, the EMB may be able to avoid a story gaining momentum disproportionate to its accuracy or relevance. It will be useful for EMBs to prepare a comprehensive booklet containing frequently asked questions (FAQ) and talking points regarding e-voting or counting, for use by election commissioners, senior managers and public relations personnel, which includes responses to common and often-repeated criticisms of electronic voting machines. Responses to questions from journalists or stakeholders should always aim to inform and educate, rather than to dismiss concerns.
In addition to a media campaign, the EMB should identify as many opportunities as possible for voters to try out the new voting equipment in person. Information transmitted by media cannot replace the experience of trying the equipment in real life. As mentioned above, usability tests as well as pre-pilot and mock elections are good initial opportunities for voters to try out and become comfortable with the equipment, as well as to receive assistance on how to use it. Election officials should be creative and take advantage of all possible opportunities to share information on the electronic systems throughout the pre-election period. Voters are likely to be curious about the new technology and interested in trying it for themselves. In Geneva, authorities installed test machines using the new Internet voting interface in the waiting room of the passport service office so that citizens could test the voting system while they waited.
Since increased accessibility of elections is a frequently cited goal of electronic voting and counting projects, particular consideration should be given to reaching out to target groups with special voter education messages and campaigns. Voters with disabilities and elderly voters should be informed about any new functionality that may facilitate their ability to vote unassisted, and should be provided with relevant information about any further steps they need to take prior to voting. Elderly voters may be particularly hesitant to use new technology, and special efforts should be made so that they feel comfortable with the equipment. Voters from minority language groups should receive voter information in their own languages to inform them about new opportunities to use ballot interfaces in alternative languages. Specific TV and radio campaigns should also provide information for illiterate and low-literacy voters, to explain how they will be able to vote using the new system (e.g., by displaying candidate photos or party symbols on the ballot) and to encourage their participation, given that they may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with electronic technologies.
The adoption of new election technologies may offer opportunities for election officials to reach out to young voters and encourage their participation. In addition to voter education campaigns in the traditional media, voter education efforts aimed at young voters should take full advantage of social media.
While the primary responsibility for voter education rests with the EMB, civil society groups may also be usefully engaged in educating voters about electronic voting and counting systems. To play this role, civil society groups must have access to accurate and timely information from the EMB about how the new system will work and what voter education messages should be disseminated. Voter education messages should be carefully formulated to transmit the most necessary information in a user-friendly format.
Voter information should also be available at polling stations – including leaflets or posters that explain to voters how to cast a ballot using the new equipment. Polling officials should be well prepared to answer any questions about the voting machines – such as how to use the machines, how the vote is counted and transmitted and how the security and secrecy of the vote are protected. Providing this kind of information will help to increase voter confidence and trust in electronic voting and counting.
As representatives of citizens, domestic election observer groups have a particular responsibility to ensure that the public is adequately informed about elections. Election observers should assess the provision of voter education by election officials throughout the election process and should determine whether adequate information has been provided. Such information can be collected by long-term observers, and data may also be available in public opinion surveys. If any gaps in knowledge or among particular target groups or regions are identified, election observer groups should make recommendations to election officials about how such gaps can be filled so that voters have the information they need to vote and have confidence that their votes will be accurately reflected in the election result.
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