Cascading knowledge to voter education volunteers
“Reducing the number of invalid votes in the upcoming elections is our objective, and this training made us more confident in achieving it.”
This was a common sentiment among the trainers participating in the two-day voter education training-of-trainer events that the Election Commission Nepal (ECN) conducted with ESP support in all seven states of Nepal on 14 and 15 of October.
Voter education continues to be critical for the credibility of elections. ECN identified reducing the percentage of invalid votes as one of the main issues to be addressed in Nepal’s electoral process. In the local elections, the large and complex ballot paper was a source of confusion, but the upcoming elections will bring their own challenges.
The State Assembly and House of Representatives elections are held together, but in two phases and voters will be given two ballot papers, on which to mark four votes. The state level of government is new in Nepal and in recent weeks several political parties fused and forged new alliances, so there is much new information for voters to absorb.
The core voter education strategy of ECN remains door-to-door voter education by social mobilization volunteers.
ECN plans to deploy around 20,000 of them and is conducting their training in a cascade manner.
According to Mr. Pradeep Bhattarai, a resource person in the regional training-of-trainer event in Janakpurdham, the main objective of the training was to familiarize the local trainers with legal provisions related to the House of Representatives and State Assembly elections as well as the polling procedure.
He was confident that the training methodology and reference material distributed ensured that the objective has been attained.
The fact that most trainers were involved in previous trainings also helps.
Ms. Indira Yadav, a participant from Siraha district, confirmed this: “We already knew about the general process of the elections, but without the information about the different electoral systems for the upcoming elections, our knowledge would have been incomplete.”
The training events also provide an opportunity for feedback based on field experience. For example, some of the participants shared that better educated volunteers should be selected and that they should be asked to work full-time during the campaign. Incorporating stronger monitoring mechanisms was also suggested.
“We found that mock polling is the best medium to teach the correct method of voting, so we should give the utmost priority to conducting this exercise in as many communities as possible”, suggested Ms. Sabita Lamichhane from Makwanpur.
This sentiment is shared by the ECN at the central level, too. In addition to door-to-door voter education, ECN is organizing mock polling events, voter education through street drama and through radio and television, among other channels. Polling for the first phase of the combined elections is to be held on 26 November and for the second phase on 7 December.
The Electoral Support Project- Phase II (ESP) is a technical assistance initiative which focuses on a long-term institutional and professional capacity development of the Election Commission (ECN) for conducting credible, inclusive and transparent elections. The objectives of the project are 1) to strengthen the capacity of the ECN to function as an independent and credible institution, 2) to allow the conduct of the election cycle in an effective, sustainable, and credible manner, and 3) to increase democratic participation, particularly for under-represented and disadvantaged segments of the Nepali society. ESP is currently funded by EU and Norway.