It’s Your Choice is a nonpartisan NGO and the largest domestic election monitor in Armenia with 4,000 volunteers, and offices and chapters in all Marzes and 12 communities of Yerevan. IYC’s mission is to
– Promote transparent elections and democratic processes in Armenia;
– Establish true self-governance and accountability within the government;
– Encourage citizen participation in community governance; and
– Provide objective, reliable and timely information to Armenian voters.
Part of IYC’s plans for the coming elections makes the Voter Education. During this education voters are given a list of questions regarding mainly their role in the voting process. They are being explained the new law, the importance of their vote, then mock election is being conducted. In the end the voters again answer to the same list of questions, which is done for checking the productiveness of the education.
Such a voter education took place today for a group of Erebuni community voters consisted of 45 people aged 20 to 70. As I was among the organizers interesting it was to observe the awareness and readiness of people for the upcoming elections. Interestingly when you start talking about elections, the first reaction of people is hesitative, as they suppose that you may be from a political party. But soon, being introduced to IYC and its activities they become engaged in the educational process willingly, which usually results to a productive process throughout the education.
First of all the voters were explained how important of each of their votes is, that their being active and protecting their right of doing their choice is essential. After having the answers on the questionnaires it was more than evident that nearly all of the participants didn’t have any distinct knowledge not only about elections in general, but also about their own role in it.
To the question “What is the period for checking the presence of the voter’s name in the list of voters?”, which is 40 days before the elections when the voter’s list is hang in every polling station, only one voter was close with the answer writing one month, whereas the rest of the voters decided that they could check their names only 10 or 20 minutes before casting their vote. This supposed itself that as a matter of fact the voters do not check their names earlier facing several difficulties with applying to the court the election day.
Even on that, as we found out from the answer to the next question, most of the people present didn’t know when and where they could apply if there are faults with their names on the lists. Some of them thought that the electoral committee members themselves could add or change names in the period of 30 minutes to 24 hours before elections. Whereas only 3 days before the elections, with a notice from the electoral commission, the voters can turn to the court for restoring their names on the lists, and 40 days before the elections with the same problem they can turn to the Local Administrative Body.
Nearly everyone without exception thought that disabled and old people had right to vote by the mobile ballot box. Whereas by the Electoral Code, 3 days before the elections the hospitals give the names of the patients who receive stationary treatment, and only they are allowed to vote by the mobile ballot box.
And of course, the voters didn’t know that by the new Electoral Code the ballots need to be enveloped before casting into the ballot box. A mock election was staged where the voters learnt what member of the PEC is responsible for what.
One of the voters turned to me and said with embarrassment, “But how could we know this, who would tell us, was it on TV? And I think everyone should learn about this, not only this small group”.
While I hoped that some educational adds would be on TV with the come of elections, I stressed on her other concern. Of course IYC is having Voter Education in all the communities and regions, but logically it is not possible to involve everyone. So the most important factor here is that after acquiring the knowledge on elections every participant passes it on to their families, relatives, neighbors and friends. As the final questionnaires showed, the voters present at the education completely digested the given information and they could pretty well enlighten their acquaintances with what was discussed during the education.
As far as IYC is also monitoring National Assembly deputies, as to a particular deputy’s political and work experience, how many times they attended, how they voted, how many questions they asked, etc, the voters were also given leaflets with information about the deputies they were interested in.
All in all, the impression is that while we are discussing the upcoming Parliamentary Elections here, the population, whose voice is supposed to be the most crucial for the results, is either not informed or not interested. As I quote a woman who is working at one of the universities in Yerevan and who came up to me with a question, “Uh, I know nothing about elections. Are these the Parliamentary or the Presidential ones?.”, I get assured once more that voter education is more than necessary. Probably people absorbed in every day life do not have time to think about the elections, consider it less important and still complain of life. But once the message on their significant role in the future of their country and the welfare of their own lives is conveyed, it gives them a room to ponder, and inspires us with the hope that they will be able to protect their rights on the election day.