Fewer young people have registered to vote in the May election

Despite population growth, the number of 18 to 19-year-olds who have registered is down by almost half from the 2014 general election

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Photo of a person entering a voting station
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group stated on Wednesday that the number of 18 to 19-year-olds on the 2019 voters’ roll is 47% down compared to 2014. Photo: Masixole Feni

The number of young people who have registered to vote in the May general election is down substantially from 2014, and this despite population growth.

The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) expressed concern on Wednesday that the number of 18 to 19 year-olds on the 2019 voters’ roll is 341,236. In 2014 it was 646,313, meaning the number of new voters has dropped by nearly half (47%). The number of registered 20 to 29 year-olds has dropped 4% from 5,759,236 to 5,299,297.

When taking into account that the population has grown by approximately 7.5% over the past five years, the drop is even more profound. In January GroundUp reported that the voter registration rate is down from 2014 (but not the absolute number of voters who registered). But PMG’s report indicates that the absolute numbers are actually down among youth (overall, including all age groups, registration is up, but not as a proportion of the population).

The reason for the drop is unclear. PMG quotes elections analyst Ebrahim Fakir, who said that there is a growing tendency for younger people globally to participate less in formal political processes. “This doesn’t necessarily mean they are agnostic, disengaged or apathetic, it simply means that they express themselves politically in other ways, such as direct action, protests, cultural forums and so on,” said Fakir.

The PMG notes that the huge drop among 18 to 19-year-olds was not mentioned in a recent Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) report to Parliament’s Home Affairs Portfolio Committee. This “is a concern for the PMG as this prevents Parliament from performing effective oversight,” the organisation stated.

To address the drop in enrollment in youth, the IEC said that it has commissioned a youth communication campaign, titled X’se, to talk to young South Africans “in their everyday parlance”.

Judith February, who has written extensively on elections, said that the IEC should have informed Parliament of the big drop in youth registration. The IEC responded that after the “presently unfolding electoral process” it will present a report to the National Assembly that will describe the “entire certified voters roll as well as registration of all age categories”.

The PMG also refers to a new web-based application system which was piloted in February. The PMG quotes IEC official Granville Abrahams saying that the new technology should help improve voter registration among youth in future elections.

UPDATE on 4 April 2019: IEC comment was added.

TOPICS:  Elections Elections 2019

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