You might have seen the hashtag #VoteJamaica going around if you are active in the social media space. That hashtag and the group it belongs to Vote Jamaica, certainly made its presence felt in our recent #ElectionJa Twitter chat. The group, consisting of young professionals, was formed in only a month ago in August, starting from a tweet. We caught up with them via email to find out more about their mission to get Jamaicans enumerated and voting. See the interview below:
What is the mandate of the Vote Jamaica initiative?
Simply put, it’s to get higher enumeration and voter participation in Jamaica’s electoral process – ideally, 90 per cent or higher in both cases. We believe that in order to safeguard our democracy and hold our leaders accountable, we all have to participate. Ultimately, we would like to amplify the voice of who feel powerless about issues of national importance.
How did it get started?
It started out of concern for the low voter turnout that we have seen in our last five elections and the increasing voter apathy being displayed by notable, influential Jamaicans. We felt compelled to offer an alternative message, which encourages us all to hold our leaders accountable by expressing our approval/disapproval with their policies through the vote.
Tell us a little about the makeup of the team.
It’s a mix of characters. Presently, four ladies and four men make up the team. They come from various professional, social and political backgrounds. Persons identify with both of the major political parties and others are apolitical. Marlon Campbell is a financial advisor. He is joined by World Economic Forum Global Shaper and business analyst Dayton Lawton, Youth Empowerment Officer (Ministry of Youth and Culture) Kemesha Kelly, Global Shaper and attorney-at-law Mikhail Francis, lifestyle blogger and communications consultant Chelan Smith, attorney-at-law Stewart Panton, social media manager Yanique Lambert and human resource officer Stephanie Abrahams.
Vote Jamaica has members from both major political parties. How do you keep ‘politics’ out of it to stay on message?
Far easier than one would imagine. The genuine concern we have for the state of Jamaica and the shared vision helps to keep any political bias in check. Even before we came together, the members have always been persons to call it as it is, regardless of critique of their own favoured party. It is critical that we maintain our neutrality as an organization and this was established once we first got together. We all operate under the charter that despite our personal beliefs (or politics), our objective is to amplify the participation of all Jamaicans, regardless of the party they support.
Why is it important for Jamaicans to get registered and vote?
Apart from being a civic duty, your vote is your voice. It’s one way to let our leaders know if you approve or disapprove of their performance. This is how you choose who you want to run your country (aka your business). Politicians pander to voters; that’s the simple fact of the matter. Voting is one of the most important actions you can take to speak up on issues that will directly impact your life.
Politicians cater to those who support them. It would be a refreshing change to have an informed electorate that refuses to be swayed by curry goat politics, demanding policies that will move the country forward. That won’t happen if 50 per cent of us refuse to add their voices to the electorate. We give politicians a free pass to pander to their respective bases.
Vote Jamaica has a strong online voice. Have you been doing on the ground work as well? If so, please tell us about it.
We are still in the shaping process. We hope to transcend cyberspace soon. For us, we have gotten up and running quicker than we had dared hope. The initiative is taking on a life of its own and whilst we know the desired end game, we are open to how we get there exactly. There are aspects of the Rock the Vote campaign that we will consider taking on, things like concerts, because you have to reach the young voters where they are and in ways they are open to. We have partnered with various agencies and individuals to spread our message. All our members have personally been instrumental in having colleagues, associates and friends register to vote. One of our members was able to carry his entire office out to register. In our own spaces, we encourage and facilitate others to visit electoral offices. We are working on partnering with artistes/known personalities who will assist us with getting out the message to a much larger audience. We also hope to be able to hold a forum on the importance of voting.
Have you seen any results so far?
A big resounding YES! Many young persons have been tagging us in pictures of themselves enumerating and expressing that they will be voting this time around. The response to our initiative has been very encouraging. We have partnered with the World Economic Forum through their Global Shapers initiative and as I said, we can attribute many first-time voter registrations island-wide to our campaign. We hope to be instrumental in increasing voter turnout from 51 per cent to at least 60 per cent in the next election, increasing with each election.
Do you have upcoming plans you’d like to highlight?
Most are still in the embryonic stage and we have a bit of publicity to do to make people aware that this initiative is happening, but we would like to highlight our plan to stage a forum on the importance of voting. Other plans will need funding, which we will have to source. We would also like to reach out to any artistes or captains of industry who would like to help spread our message.
Follow the group on Twitter: @