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Youth participation at the elections: between misinterpretations and innovative approaches. Commentary by Mihaela Fedoseev and Mihai Mogîldea


https://www.ipn.md/public/index.php/en/youth-participation-at-the-elections-between-misinterpretations-and-innovative-a-7978_1085064.html

”Given the growing dynamics of emigration of young people from the Republic of Moldova, the expansion of representatives of the second generation of emigrants among the Moldovan diaspora, but also the negative consequences of emigration on the quality of civic and electoral education, especially in rural areas, sustainable policy interventions and actions are needed at the level of policies, aimed at responding to the impact of the new social and demographic challenges for the youth participation in the voting process...”

The participation rate of young people in the vote has been, in recent years, a sensitive issue both during the voting process and in the period immediately after their completion. In essence, this issue came to public attention with the misinterpretation of data on the turnout of young people on the day of parliamentary or presidential elections. These statistics, provided to the public live by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), have often been misanalyzed by the local media, without understanding the calculation reasoning used by the electoral authorities. This reasoning concerned the proportion of voter turnout per age group in the total number of votes cast and was not intended to project the proportion of voter turnout in each age group. Thus, the false perception is often created that young people would participate in an extremely small number at the polls, their participation being "rated" between 10 and 20% for the age categories established by the CEC: 18-25 years and 26– 40 years.

The massive process of emigration among young people, correlated with inaccurate data on the number of the population with habitual residence, creates some discrepancies in the process of analyzing the voting rate of young people. Specifically, due to the declining number of young people with habitual residence, the potential for young people to participate in voting is decreasing, especially due to the limited geographical coverage of polling stations open abroad. Taking into account the growing dynamics of youth emigration from the Republic of Moldova, the expansion of representatives of the second generation of emigrants among the Moldovan diaspora, but also the negative consequences of emigration on the quality of civic and electoral education, especially in rural areas, sustainable interventions and actions are needed at the policy level, designed to respond to the impact of new social and demographic challenges on young people's participation in voting.

How many young people do we have in the country and how many of them vote?

According to the legislation in force, young people are people aged between 14 and 35 years. Official data show that the number of young people in the Republic of Moldova has been steadily declining in recent years. For example, between 2017 and 2020, the number of young people decreased by almost 150,000, currently reaching 680,000. At present, young people account for over 26% of the population with normal residence in the Republic of Moldova.

In the last three national elections in 2019, 2020 and 2021, the turnout of young people ranged from 37% to 51% (Fig. 1). The highest turnout was recorded in the second round of the presidential elections in November 2020, when 51.46% of young people aged between 18 and 35 participated in the vote, at a distance of only 1.3% compared to the general turnout recorded in that election. In fact, this election was the only one for which the data on the turnout of young people were systematized by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and presented to the general public. In the absence of aggregate information per category of voters 18-35 years, estimates show that young people are becoming increasingly interested in expressing their option to vote, registering on both segments (18-25 years and 26-40 years) increases of about 3-4% between the two parliamentary elections in 2019 and 2021.

 

18-25

26-40

Number of citizens aged 18+

Voters

Rate

Incluși pe liste

Number of citizens aged 18+

Rate

2019

326 422

123 388

37,8%

941 144

373 634

39,7%

2020

295 290

154 167

52,2%

925 463

474 083

51,2%

2021

286 603

118 729

41,43%

914 163

405 296

44,34%

Fig. 1. Participation rate within the last national elections (2019 – 2021)

This dynamic can be easily understood against the background of the rapid increase in turnout in the diaspora between 2019 and 2021, when turnout in the parliamentary elections increased more than 3.4 times, from about 76,000 in 2019 to over 263,000 in 2021. Thus, against the background of the emigration process, but also of the rather close connections between Moldovan citizens abroad and the resident population, the interest of young people in the diaspora for elections remained high. Moreover, facilitating the voting exercise by increasing the number of polling stations open in the diaspora from 123 in 2019 to 150 in 2021 has encouraged more active participation in voting, including among young people.

Problems related to the youth participation in the voting process

Many of the issues that influence young people's participation in voting are difficult to quantify. Surveys conducted among young people, in order to identify these issues, are unrepresentative and often target only young people integrated into the education system. Moreover, in the absence of a set of public data on the participation of young people in the vote, which should be provided by the CEC at the end of each election, we find ourselves in the situation of operating with estimated and inaccurate measurements.

One of the key issues related to young people's participation in the polls is where they are on polling day. Currently, about 30,000 students living outside Chisinau are enrolled in universities in the capital, and several thousand other students, with the same status, attend the courses of colleagues and vocational schools. Tens of thousands of other young people live in Chisinau without declaring their new home or changing their residence visa. Respectively, on the eve or on the day of the national elections, this group of voters finds themselves in the situation of taking some additional actions in order to be able to exercise their right to vote.

In the case of pupils and students, it is a question of completing, on the day of the vote, a statement on their own responsibility regarding the abstention from multiple voting. In the case of persons voting in a locality other than their domicile or residence, it is necessary either to submit a declaration on their own responsibility to the local public administration authority 30 days before the election day, or to issue a certificate with the right to vote on the basis of an application. submitted to the polling station of the polling station to which he is assigned. Unfortunately, these procedures are not very popular among voters, being approved, for example, only 3195 statements of residence for the parliamentary elections of July 11, 2021. The reluctance of young people to follow these procedures may be caused by poor information among voters. or the bureaucratic nature of the documents that need to be submitted in physical format, not online.

Other causes that impact the participation of young people in the vote are related to the quality of civic education in pre-university education, severely affected by the increasing decrease in the number of schools, teachers and students. The low involvement of young people in community activities, especially in rural areas, as well as the lack of sustainable and representative dialogue platforms between local and young public authorities, generate a low interest in political activity at the level of localities, cities and the country. On the other hand, the emigration of young people, including those of school age, raises the issue of the proximity of polling stations and the facilitation of the voting process in the diaspora.

Solutions to increase young people's participation at the elections

The development of solutions to increase the participation of young people in the vote must start from understanding the status quo and the social and demographic context of the Republic of Moldova in 2021. Specifically, electoral institutions must ensure the systematization and publication of data on activism of people with disabilities. age between 18 and 35 at the polls. At the same time, the instruments for measuring turnout per age group, used by the CEC, need to be modified. A possible alternative in this regard would be to include two distinct age groups for presenting the level of participation on election day: 18-24 years, to measure the turnout of young people who are largely part of the education system and 25 - 35 years old, mainly employed. Any public policy proposals on this subject should be based on relevant quantitative information, which could be obtained from these changes.

In the short term, the implementation of electronic voting could address at least two major challenges today: the mass emigration of young people and the low rate of notification of changes of domicile and residence on the eve of voting day. In practice, electronic voting would exempt voters, including young voters, from pre-registration procedures and applications/ declarations regarding their place of voting on polling day. At the same time, electronic voting would create the premises for popularizing the importance of exercising the right to vote among young people and would provide a handy solution for young people in the country and abroad, regardless of their location. The voting potential in the diaspora, where about 30% of eligible citizens currently vote, is much higher and can be easily boosted by the introduction of electronic voting.

In the medium and long term, electronic voting must be followed by the completion of the school curriculum with blocks of topics related to the importance of turnout and the role of democratic processes in the country. At the level of local authorities, emphasis should be placed on tools for civic involvement of young people, such as public consultations on various development projects and participatory budgeting. At the same time, national authorities must facilitate the full functioning of the district youth centers and the National Agency for the Development of Youth Programs and Activities, which must have sufficient funds for awareness-raising and information campaigns among young people on voting.
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Mihaela Fedoseev is a program assistant at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Moldova Foundation. Previously, Mihaela was a trainee and junior researcher at the Institute for European Policy and Reform (IPRE).

Mihai Mogîldea works as the Team Leader, Europeanization Program, within the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE). Mihai is a graduate of the master's program in European Political and Administrative Studies of the College of Europe (Bruges).
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This comment was published in the project "We and Europe - Analysis of Moldovan-European relations through innovative media and analytical products", implemented by the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE), in partnership with IPN and Radio Chisinau, with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The views presented in this commentary do not necessarily correspond to the position of the funders.