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Registration process cripples youth voting

Published:Friday | June 15, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Andrew Wildes, Gleaner Writer


THE NUMBER-one barrier keeping young voters back from the polls each election year may not be what you think.

If Jamaica is anything like the United States of America, it may be that the vast majority of youth voters are absent on election day simply because they did not register to vote, or do not know how to vote.

"One of the biggest barriers of young people participating in our political process here in the United States is the registration process," said Chrissy Faessen of America's largest non-partisan voter registration group - Rock the Vote (RTV).

Faessen, vice-president of marketing and communication at RTV, was not talking off the top of her head when she cited voter registration as the number-one obstacle to a higher youth vote.

While apathy and disillusion with the process are relevant factors, Faessen has the raw data to prove that once you register young people to vote, in the vast majority of times they end up doing just that.

Rock the Vote, an American non-profit focused on engaging American youth in the political process, has registered over five million Americans to vote. When asked by The Gleaner if those registrations have translated into actual votes, Faessen answered without a hint of hesitation.

"Absolutely, absolutely ... ." she said.

"About 83 per cent of the people we got on the voter registration rolls turned out for the election. We know that once we can get them on the rolls, we can turn them out. There is very little drop off from registration to actually participating," Faessen stated.

She was speaking with journalists at the Washington Foreign Press Center, in Washington, as part of the Foreign Press Center's 'Youth in Politics' 2012 reporting tour.

One may argue that the American position is manifestly different from the Jamaican reality. In America, voter registration laws vary across states - making their process much more complex. They have a much larger, more diverse population.

Moreover, how can voter registration be a problem when there are nearly 1.7 million people on the Jamaican voters' list - some 42,000 were just recently added prior to the last election in December 2011?

It must be noted, however, that a steady stream of young Jamaicans attain the age of majority each year. For those young voters, the road to registration may not be as rosy as presumed.

There have been complaints by university students living away from home of great difficulties in trying to register. The problem for the student from Westmoreland studying at the University of the West Indies in Kingston is that she is required to register within her home constituency, but she is always away at school during the re-verification period.