International students as election observers in Leiden
Twenty-five young people from all over Europe have come to the Netherlands in the week of the Dutch election to act as election observers. They will learn about Dutch politics and observe in polling stations whether the voting is taking place in line with the rules. Two of them are stationed in Leiden. 'We are the fly on the wall!'
The election mission, organised by European student association AEGEE, aims to focus more attention on the voting process and at the same time encourage young people to become more involved in elections. The organisation is referring with this last point to the students taking part in the project not young people at the polling stations, because they are not allowed to intervene in any way in the voting process.
Phillip Adnett (25), election observer from the UK, explains what the role of observer involves. ‘We first speak briefly to the chairperson of the polling station, and then we act as the fly on the wall. If people approach us, we are allowed to talk to them.' 'We're not there to influence the voting process,' Francesca Chessa (29, Italy) adds. ‘We don't know in advance which polling station we will be going to.'
Participation by young people
The young people taking part in the project are mainly motivated by their interest in politics and democracy. The days leading up to 15 March were spent learning about Dutch politics and in particular the role of young people. Young politicians from the local area also shared their experiences with the students.
The two observers stationed in Leiden have already discovered some unusual features of the voting process in the Netherlands. Adnett: ‘Here, you can vote anywhere in your municipality, and you can even apply to vote anywhere in the whole country. In the UK, you are assigned to a polling station and that's where you have to vote.' 'The voting process here is much more informal than in Italy,' Chessa believes. 'There you would never see a polling station in a museum or a railway station.'
After election day, the students will compile an evaluation report that will be available to the public. Adnett: ‘There's no political goal, other than the aim of getting more young people involved. The report is a truthful account of what we saw on election day.'
AEGEE election observers are also present at other elections in Europe. Observers were in place during the referendum on EU membership in the UK, and young European students will also be observing the coming elections in France.