'They vote for the first time, but not the last'
Trends, challenges, and best practices of youth participation
The Association decided to focus on youth participation throughout the year 2021. As the first step in our journey, the ACEEEO organized an Online Symposium titled ‘They vote for the first time, but not the last – Trends, challenges, and best practices of youth participation’ on 4 February 2021.
The Symposium dealt with the topic from an international comparative angle as well as from a country specific perspective, tackling the experiences of international organizations, members of the academia, and Electoral Management Bodies. We are glad that a fruitful discussion has been taken place with the active participation of more than 50 electoral experts from all around the world.
The Symposium was opened by Zsolt Szolnoki (Secretary General, ACEEEO), who presented briefly on the experiences of Global Election Day, a unique tradition initiated by the Association, that was held for the 17th time, and on the 30th anniversary of the ACEEEO. Mr. Szolnoki emphasized that the Association seizes the opportunity of this milestone to look into the future and announced that in 2021 the topic of youth participation will be in the Association’s focus. Accordingly, he gave a brief overview of the draft concept circulated earlier, underlining the main themes and features of the project as well as a rough timeline for 2021. Mr. Szolnoki also underlined that the Symposium serves to give feedbacks on and new ideas to the concept – something that in hindsight was greatly completed.
The Symposium then proceeded with the first block that tackled the question from a more general viewpoint. The first presenter, Dániel Oross (Researcher, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Centre of Excellence) gave a broad overview in his presentation with the title ‘Promoting Youth Participation.’ In his problem-focused presentation Mr. Oross underlined the most important theoretical considerations and the main problems, and the analysis was supported by rich empirical data. He concluded by showing the possible solutions and the related trade-offs. The second presenters were Ana Rusu (Senior Election Adviser, OSCE/ODIHR) and Augusta Featherston (Youth Focal Point, OSCE/ODIHR). The presenters focused on OSCE/ODIHR’s agenda for youth and democracy, emphasizing that not ‘the wheel should be reinvented’, rather the existing knowledge and know-how should be implemented effectively by key stakeholders. In this regard, civil society, international organizations and public authorities should cooperate. The first block was concluded by Ashley Law (Youth Specialist, IFES) who, in her presentation focused on youth participation during the COVID-19 epidemic. Ms. Law gave a brief overview of IFES’ work on the field and some demographic data, underlining the underrepresented nature of the youth. She also described the impact of the epidemic on youth participation, highlighting the effects of social distancing, ‘democratic learning gap’, limited access to information, and the institutional framework, as well as describing the possible means of enhancing youth participation.
The second block followed, focusing on best practices from single country case studies. The block was opened by Giorgi Sharabidze (Deputy Chairperson, CEC of Georgia) presenting on the Georgian experience. Mr. Sharabidze gave an overview of the Georgian EMB’s efforts on promoting youth participation in general, then introduced the EMB’s brand new project called ‘Electoral Youth Camp’ and the related experiences. He was followed by Corneliu Pasat (Deputy Chief, Communication, Public Relations and Media Department, CEC of the Republic of Moldova), who presented on the Moldavian experience. Mr. Pasat described thoroughly the different ways the EMB facilitates the empowerment of the youth to actively participate. This includes camps with filmmakers, electoral contests and quizzes, youth forums, civic education ambassadors, and many other features.
The Symposium was concluded by Zsolt Szolnoki, who thanked all the participants and the audience. This Symposium was a first step of this year’s long journey; the ACEEEO is planning to hold several similar gatherings as well as dedicating the Annual Conference to this topic. Moreover, the draft concept is being revised and finalized with regard to the insights of the Symposium, and the project will be launched with the participation of the ACEEEO community.