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Election season is slowly coming to an end in different parts of the University of Ibadan. Over the course of the season, I have found myself wondering time and again, what exactly informs the choices we make, and when exactly do we decide on our chosen candidate? Any election is surrounded by a myriad of activities to help voters get to know the aspirants and form opinions. There are rallies, one-on-one interviews with Press Organisations, Press Nights, Manifesto Nights and even door-to-door campaigning. As dedicated as this all sounds, I can not help but wonder how effective it is at the end of the day, especially in light of the most recent Student Union elections.

To any politically alert person, it will come as no surprise that this year’s batch of elections were far from clear-cut. From the unopposed aspirants and subpar manifestos to unimpressive Press Night performances and failed elections, it has been quite an experience. However, for the most part, we have chosen our leaders. As the season comes to a close, it is time to examine the intricacies of an election to find out why we voted for Mr X and not Miss Y.

It begs the question of what, where, and how voters make up their minds about their choice(s) and how bias can and if it, in fact, should be eradicated in its entirety. Broadly speaking, voters can be categorised into 5 major classes based on when they decide who their preferred candidate is. These include:

  1. At Candidacy Announcement
  2. At First Contact
  3. After Press Night
  4. At Manifesto Night
  5. On the Election Day

In a utopia, making a choice as soon as the candidacy is announced will not exist because plans need to be heard and objectively judged before any choice is made, regardless of how qualified the candidate(s) may or may not seem on paper, or how well they do or do not relate with others. Unfortunately, reality is far from that. Perception of the aspirants, course of study, place of abode, and several other factors influence votes. Everything seems to carry more weight than the aspirant’s actual plans. In a way, it can be said that a fair number of people vote based on “vibes”; how they feel about the candidates and where their biases lie the heaviest.

As humans, our bias will always rear its head when we are faced with a choice, but it is still up to us to set it aside for objectivity’s sake when it is time to lay our cards on the table. It would be unfair, and perhaps impossible, to ask voters to remain free from bias during the entire process. As a result, any persisting bias can be addressed at the Manifesto Night. It is the one event dedicated solely to voters airing their concerns and having those concerns addressed. Unfortunately, only a fraction of voters show up, and even less stay for the entire length of the event. It furthers the opinion that votes are being cast based on hearsay, feelings and occasionally, Press NIght outcomes.

Those who make up their minds after the Press Night are rarely people who attend Press Nights. Granted, the point of a Press Night is to help inform the opinions of voters by assessing how aspirants fare when judged by an independent panel. However, it cannot effectively substitute for getting to know what the aspirants stand for personally. It does not reflect the candidate best equipped to represent your specific interests. It becomes a situation of voting for a good, albeit not the best candidate, which although better, is still not ideal. Those who decide based on the scores awarded at the screening and Press Nights, would generally be voting based off what other people or bodies decided was best. They would have deprived themselves of making any personal judgements.

Finally, there are those who choose who to vote for on election day, perhaps on a whim, or even what candidate has the more attractive name. Deciding at the waking hour or last minute leaves a significant margin for error. One of the first steps most aspirants take during an election is selling their campaign to those physically closest to them. This is the first exposure a number of voters get to the aspirants. It can be aptly compared to a taste test. It is necessary to point out that taste testing was designed for one-time experiences, like a menu selection for an event. For long-term activities, much more research goes into making a choice. It is prudent to examine, compare and contrast, and wait to see if it gives you metaphorical diarrhoea. The same goes for last-minute decisions. Things done at the last minute never turn out quite as good as they would have had more time been dedicated to them. In addition, it is difficult and rare to overcome a long-term bias after one encounter. As much as aspirants need to enlighten voters with regard to their plans, voters also need to be proactive about learning what they can of those to whom they will hand governing rights. So while learning at least something about the aspirants is commendable, it is far from enough. It is important to be intentional about studying the aspirants and after careful, thorough examination, decide who is the best person for the role.

There is no clear-cut, one size fits all answer to elections. However, there inarguably are wrong answers. While we search for the right way to tackle elections and we should, to be clear, we can use these as a guide of what not to do when election season rolls around again. If you think it does not matter much because it is not Nigeria’s Presidential Elections, then think again. Apathy, if anything, only grows over time.

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