|SPECIAL REPORT: Young voters ready for elections|
|Written by By NGOVOU GYANG|
|Thursday, 05 May 2011 08:59|
“I look forward to being a part of the process,” the 19-year-old law student said from his room at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
Mr. Rhymer hasn’t registered yet, but before he left for university, he researched the process and understands what preparing for an election entails.
“I think it is important [for new voters] to participate in the process, because the issues at hand will affect young people mostly,” he said.
He considers “upgrading the tourism product of the BVI” an important election issue, and he also plans to look for candidates who seek to implement policies to protect the environment, he explained.
Like Mr. Rhymer, several first- and second-time voters interviewed for this article expressed keen interest in the coming elections. Before heading to the polls, they said they will consider issues ranging from crime to sewerage, from youth programmes to religion.
In recent months, “a lot” of young people have registered to vote, according to Elections Supervisor Juliette Penn.
“A number of students came to register when they came home over the Christmas holidays, and some who were leaving to school in January also came. … We are having a good turnout with them,” Ms. Penn said. “Some of them have said to me, ‘We are going to be at the polls early.’”
The elections supervisor said she couldn’t provide exact numbers, but her office recently has registered several people born in the early 1990s.
“There seems to be a kind of excitement for the young people. Some of them are looking forward to being able to vote for the first time,” she said.
Office-seekers are paying attention.
At-large candidate Richard “Courtney” de Castro said voters under 30 will be a major focus of his campaign.
“I did my own research, and they will be the largest voting bloc, … but this is unsubstantiated,” Mr. de Castro said.
The H. Lavity Stoutt Community College lecturer added that this age group is also most affected by many government decisions.
To target these voters, the aspiring legislator plans to use a website and Facebook page to spread his ideas. “I am going to be sending a lot of young people to it. When election is announced, the site will be more active,” he said.
Other candidates have already jumped on the technology bandwagon.
First-timer Preston Stoutt, who is running at large, recently launched a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Many of his online posts address youth issues. On Facebook this week, he congratulated Miss Teen Virgin Gorda on her win. In another post, he linked to an article about young people registering to vote here.
Virgin Islands Party incumbent Elvis Harrigan (R-D5) said he will reach out to young voters in person, while attending sporting and church activities, among other initiatives.
“I meet with them on the basketball court, and I have even carried a few to register,” Mr. Harrigan said.
The legislator added that he believes strongly that youth participation is key in every election. “They are the next generation,” Mr. Harrigan said. “When they are involved in an election, they have a voice, and I certainly encourage them to register to vote.”
Meanwhile, the National Democratic Party has enlisted the help of young people to reach out to their peers. Bevin George, 23, is a member of the NDP Youth, an organisation he said works to involve young people in elections.
“I think it is important for everyone, not just young people, to be politically aware of and involved in what is going on,” Mr. George said. “When you vote, you [do] not just vote for representatives but for legislators. So you have to know the type and kind of people you are voting for.”
To attract members, the group is planning a forum, during which members hope to address certain issues that affect the VI, according to Mr. George. A fundraising event is also in the works. The group is made up of “about” 10 members, according to Mr. George.
‘Hoping for change’
Many young voters are already following the political campaigns closely. Adrian Hodge, 22, plans to vote for the second time this year.
“For now it is more about watching the candidates, because every day a new candidate pops up,” Mr. Hodge said, “which is a good thing.”
To him, aspiring candidates should address issues that concern the entire territory, he said.
“Loyalty to country always, and loyalty to your party when they deserve it,” Mr. Hodge said. “If your party is messing up, don’t just stay there because it’s your party and because you have to be loyal.”
Even though it might be too early to decide who he wants to see in the House of Assembly, he will visit the polling station with enthusiasm, he added.
Mr. Hodge had just turned 18 before the 2007 election.
“I was elated. It was a great feeling to be able to vote,” he said, adding, “I woke up about 6 a.m. and by 7 a.m., I was out of the Legislative Council [after voting].”
In 2007, it wasn’t just the excitement of participating in an election that lingered in Mr. Hodge’s head, he explained.
“I was mostly hoping for change, … and that should be the purpose of going to the polls, actually,” he said.
Before he participated, Mr. Hodge thought that elections were mostly for residents who are much older than him. But now, his opinion is different.
“It is important for young people to participate,” Mr. Hodge said. “Because at the end of the day, whether you vote or not, as long as you live in this country, issues will affect you directly or indirectly. … Even if you feel nothing will change, that is a privilege that so many people do not have.”
But not all of Mr. Hodge’s peers are convinced.
Tonya Solomon, 25, is still pondering whether to cast a ballot. She registered to vote at age 18 but has never visited any polling station.
“I never had any interest in the elections, because I never knew who to vote for,” Ms. Solomon, an administrative officer, said. “I just think whether I vote or not, my life would still be the same.”
When she registered for the first time, she felt satisfied, Ms. Solomon explained.
“I finally felt like a citizen, and after that, the excitement just died down,” she said.
She added that she feels some public officials don’t fulfil their promises after they are elected.
“All year round, the roads are bad and so is the sewerage, but around election time, they all get fixed — and between that four-year period, they neglect them,” Ms. Solomon said.
Unless situations get “really bad or out of hand,” she won’t really care much about elections, Ms. Solomon said.
“I don’t see things changing much,” she added.
If she does decide to vote, Ms. Solomon said, she hopes to choose candidates who will address the sewerage problem in Road Town and will make the city more presentable to visitors.
So far, no election fever is sweeping the student body at HLSCC, according to Dr. Karl Dawson, the school’s president. “I don’t get any sense of excitement from the students so far,” Dr. Dawson said.
The college has no courses designed to educate students about elections, but in the past students have organised forums with candidates, he added. This year, the president said he has not yet seen a move to hold such sessions.
Outside of the HLSCC community, some young voters may not have election fever, exactly, but they plan to visit the polls anyway. Ronald McDowall, 22, an accounts payable manager, is one of them. Mr. McDowall will be focusing on issues that affect young people as the election nears, he said.
“For me, the biggest issue I would want to see addressed is having more activities and policies that deal with the youths of the society,” he said. “Once the youths are dealt with, everything else will fall in place. We are the future.”
He voted for the first time in 2007, he added.
“I was excited, because I realised that change comes from whoever you put in power,” the young voter said. “So therefore, you have the power when you vote. If you don’t vote, then you can’t be actively involved with the community.”
But, after his last experience, he doesn’t feel very enthusiastic about returning to the polls, he said.
“This year, I’m not feeling too good about it, but I will still go out and place my ‘X’ where I think it is necessary,” Mr. McDowall said.
He feels that it is important to have leaders who are willing to “listen and receive guidance from the Almighty — not just leaders who think they have the power to make change because none of us has the power.”
Ms. Penn, the elections supervisor, is urging young people and other residents to vote. In the coming months, her office plans to ramp up its public education campaign, hosting television and radio programmes and other initiatives.
“I have seen some that said they won’t vote,” Ms. Penn said. “It is your democratic right. People all over the world are fighting for it, and you have it and knock it about? That is not right.”
|Last Updated on Thursday, 05 May 2011 09:03|