AEGEEans at the #EP2014: actively involved in the overall elections process

Not so long ago the Elections Observation Project (EOP) of AEGEE, which aims at training potential election observers and creating a sufficient capacity within AEGEE for international election observation missions, brought forward the initiative to be more involved in the recent European Parliament elections besides voting. This involvement in the elections got translated in becoming a volunteer, member of the pooling station commission, or in any other way being a part of the organisational process of the European elections. Hence, several AEGEE members were taken by this idea and now would like to reflect on their experience and share it with the whole network.

Gratitude from the Central Election Commission of Latvia for volunteering at the EP2014

I was a volunteer at the election station in Riga on the 24thof May. Despite the wonderful weather which made that Saturday very tempting for paying a visit to the beach, I spent the entire day in the polling station meeting Latvians who decided to do their civic duty and vote on Latvia’s representation in the EU for the upcoming five years. Checking voters’ passports and IDs, making necessary notes in the voters’ list, welcoming the media and observers of the overall election process were among my responsibilities. The highlight of her day probably was meeting one of the most prominent voters – the former president of Latvia – Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. According to my observations she spent quite a long time in the voting booth carefully scrutinising candidate lists. Mrs Freiberga had a substantial input in the country’s accession to the EU, therefore the former president must have been very cautious choosing eight Latvian faces that will soon be seen in the next European Parliament. Another positive observation suggests that youth, middle-age and elderly people’s participation in the elections was more or less equal in that particular polling station. I also met several confused and puzzled first-time voters, as well as few non-Latvian EU voters who confidently came to do what they are entitled to. Overall, the turnout in the polling station I was volunteering in was one of the highest in Riga (and actually slightly beat the EU average).

Tomasz Kowalski voting

By the end of the election-day, I also counted ballot papers and followed the electronic vote counting procedure, which allowed me and my colleagues from the election commission to finish the day earlier than it would have been in the case of manual vote counting. After the elections I must admits that working 7 am-11 pm was exhausting, but the experience was certainly worth it. Next time, for the Parliamentary elections taking place in October I will try to become a member of the polling station commission.

Tomasz Kowalski (AEGEE-Gdańsk) was the chairman of the election commission in a tiny Polish district. Being in such a responsible position he was in charge of various tasks: managing a team of six people, handling bureaucratic issues and filling in the papers, taking care of the overall voting process, as well as managing the vote counting procedure and reporting election results to the City Council. It was 2am when Tomasz took a sigh of relief, when his working day was finally over. According to Tomasz’ observations, youth participation in the elections was terribly low in his district.  “Sometimes I feel that only older people feel the need to vote, younger people don’t care about such things at all. It is really sad. Personally I’m in favour of a compulsory voting system, but Poles are not prepared for this”, he said.  Therefore, he thinks that Poles still need to learn the rights and responsibilities democracy brings.

Youth after casting vote for EP2014 in Riga, Latvia

Sadly, Tomasz had to admit that it looked like his co-citizens do not appreciate the fact that Poland has been independent and free for nearly 25 years and it has made an enormous step forward since then. “I hope that one day we will reach the normal voting attendance.”

In Germany, seven AEGEEans, as well as non-AEGEEans, were involved in the election process in Koln. For instance, Sophie Schwab (not a member of AEGEE) was quite disappointed by her experience, since she only counted envelopes and ballot papers, therefore she did not feel the real civic spirit of democratic participation. For others it must have been a different experience – various lessons learnt and conclusions made.

The EOP is proud of our members’ commitment for the European elections 2014 regardless of the level and outcomes of their involvement. The project will continue strengthening its efforts in engaging AEGEE members in election processes since we already saw the success of our endeavors.

Written by Diana Ondža, AEGEE-Riga