Young Voters: Where do we stand?

There’s no getting away from it, the election season is in full swing. The countdown is on and pretty soon everyone who’s old enough to be a registered voter will be standing in line at the polls waiting to cast their ballot. Well, not exactly everyone, but hopefully the majority, as numbers can easily make or break any party.
It’s exactly 20 days before general elections and still I have absolutely no idea, which party I will be voting for and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. This will be the first year myself or any of my friends will be old enough to vote.
“Do you even know how to vote?” my mother joked one day as we were driving through town. Immediately I felt as though she was taking me for some kind of idiot so I responded: “How hard can it be to put an ‘X’ in a box on a piece of paper?”
With that she proceeded to tell me how easy it was to spoil a ballot and I must say I was pretty surprised to learn that it wasn’t that hard to ruin a ballot with some of the rules governing voting. Later that day I logged onto Google knowing full well there was hardly any question I could post there and not get the response I was looking for. I needed voting basics and I needed it now.
What I discovered was, after matching up your name on the voters list with your identity card or other form of identification, the presiding officer within the polling station checks the voters hand to be sure they haven’t voted before (Once you’ve been through a polling station to vote you’re required to immerse your right index finger in electoral ink). If the officer is satisfied that you haven’t cast your ballot yet, your finger is dipped in ink at that point then you’re handed a ballot and instructed how to vote and how to fold the paper so your vote remains secret.
A ballot paper that is spoiled by mistake has to be returned to the presiding officer. According to the St Lucia Electoral Department, “If the presiding officer is satisfied that the soiling was accidental, another paper is provided and the first is cancelled.”
From the account of the electoral department most polling stations are in public buildings like schools and churches, but other buildings can be used upon request.  Polls open at 6:30am and close at 6pm. The day after the election date was announced all staff at my office received a memo asking that they communicate individual voting times to their head of department “in an effort to give everyone a fair opportunity and to ensure times are organized in an efficient manner so as to avoid major business disruptions.”
The first thing that came to mind: “Okay, so this is real and I’m really going to have to make a choice.”  I decided to turn to my trusty BlackBerry. On Monday morning I set my status to, “Who shall I vote for, I need a lil’ more convincing” and immediately the responses started rushing in.
“Vote SLP because you’re cute and I like you,” a friend joked. Then another added: “The choice is clear, UWP mi seh!”
“Dem politics ting really eh going with me, it’s time for elections to be over and done with!” a friend responded, then another: “I’m voting for the green party, why not try them out… red, yellow, awa!”
Needless to say, if I had to count on anyone to help make my decision easier, my waiting would most definitely be in vain! Then finally, a friend came with a response that made sense: “I really haven’t really got a full picture of what the candidates represent so how do I make a real decision in this situation?” she questioned. “All these political meetings are more of a big party than anything else, with mud slinging, name calling and I feel as if I don’t want to vote for any party especially as I can’t see major differences in the two main political parties on the island who always seem to be taking turns at the helm.”
I could relate to everything she said, the only difference was that I’d been paying attention to some of things happening on the political scene, the House debates, political meetings and most recently the Chamber of Commerce’s election forum that has so far featured prime minister Stephenson King, opposition leader Kenny Anthony and leader of the National Development Movement Ausbert d’Auvergne. Truth be told, despite being informative sometimes in between speeches that made sense came a lot of the same old repeated lines. When those three leading politicians were put on the spot to field questions from members of the chamber there was a whole lot of beating around the bush—long drawn out answers that sometimes made people forget the question they wanted answered. Answers that didn’t really answer anything, just hid the fact that the question wasn’t being answered—if you know what I mean!
I wondered: For someone who hasn’t really been paying attention to the news, who knows nothing about the plans of any political party will their vote simply be a case of “eenie, meeny, miny, moe?” I mean some people say they’re not voting for a particular party because their road wasn’t fixed without even considering other things that may have been done by their representative.                 Although from their perspective I can understand what it may feel like to them not having their immediate needs met, when they’re paying taxes, yet expected to vote for the very same party every five years.
In the midst of all the election flurry, I’ve realized there are various categories of young voters, including those who are influenced on who to vote for by their parents; the ones who are expected to support a particular party just because that’s the way it’s always been. Could it be that some of those people are so blinded by their party loyalty, that in their eyes their party can do no wrong?
And then there are the swinging voters, the ones who’re easy to convince because they don’t care much for politics yet want to vote just to say they did. There are others who are more than willing to sell their votes, the ones who want to know what an individual minister can do for them right now to make their lives easier.
This time around the election season came with a host of free concerts sponsored by the United Workers Party: Third World in Soufriere and then there are the Kassav rumours. As the dancing and music subsided some were left asking the question: “How could that be a priority when a large number of people remain unemployed, businesses are closing down and some of the country’s infrastructure still has not been repaired from Tomas?”
Depending on who you ask, the responses of the impact of the concerts varies, but nothing really changes the fact that elections is around the corner and campaigning is in full swing.
As a friend put it this week: “Young people, please do go out to vote. Exercise your right! This is a serious and important thing. Make a decision in choosing your preferred candidate. Years down the line, you’ll want to air out your frustrations and you did not vote? #RockTheVote!”

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