How can youth voter registration be encouraged?

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the youth population (defined as those between 18-24) represents a larger than average proportion of the population. In the continent as a whole, Africa has 200 million people in this age category. It is the only region in the world where the youth population is actively increasing – everywhere else, the average population age is going up.

YOUTH VOTER TURNOUT

Traditionally, there has always been low voter turnout among younger age brackets. This is a global trend. This is particularly relevant to sub-Saharan Africa due to the high youth population. If vote turnout is low among 18-24 year olds, many voices are not being heard. The average age is 19, and such a young population can have a substantial effect on policy and elections when they do vote.

WHY ARE YOUNG VOTERS IMPORTANT TO THE POLITICAL PROCESS?

Historically, young voters, particularly students, have been vital in influencing the political process. In the 1970s and 1980s, student protests were widespread, occurring in 29 countries. These had significant effect, such as the Soweto protests in South Africa. It demonstrates that an engagement with the political process amongst the largest age bracket can lead to positive, democratic change.

WHAT TECHNIQUES CAN BE USED TO ENCOURAGE VOTER REGISTRATION?

In many countries, there has been a successful push to encourage voter registration. In Zambia’s 2011 elections, following a voter registration drive, 18-24 year olds had the largest turnout of any age bracket within the electorate. This was seen to have a tangible effect, electing a new candidate, which is generally uncommon across Africa. It is more common to see incumbents (those already holding office) elected – the youth vote changed this. An improvement to information provide can encourage involvement in the political process, making it easier for new voters to learn how to exercise their voting rights.

WHAT EFFECT CAN AN ENFRANCHISED (VOTING) YOUTH POPULATION HAVE?

If there was a higher level of political engagement among the youth population in Africa, tangible change could take place. More people voting will influence the policy direction of political parties. This could be hugely influential in aiding the reduction of youth unemployment, and improvements and access to education. Therefore, through improvements to voter registration, and an emphasis on political education from a young age, Africa’s political systems can continue to improve.

TILLY WALTERS

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