In Sweden, 75% of students voted in the 2014 Elections to the European Parliament. The corresponding figure in Slovakia was just 3%. Could homogenizing voting systems like i-Voting (digital voting) increase participation?
Europe is diverse, as its own motto states. When it comes to voting in European elections, this is especially true. Take Sweden and Slovakia, for example. They have quite similar voting systems, and i-Voting is not a thing in either of them. Instead, citizens of these member states vote the way they’ve always done – queuing in line at their local polling stations. Could revolutionizing voting systems have an effect on people’s motivation to take part in politics?
Citizens who do not care about EU, but still want it to solve their problems. This can be an attribute of people in Slovakia, at least according to one of the most popular Slovak MEPs, Ms Monika Beňová. Beňová represents the country which had the lowest voter turnout in the last European elections. “We do not have Europe in our DNA,” she explained.
In 2014, Slovakia placed on the bottom of the chart of member states participating in EU elections – only 13.05 % of eligible voters voted that year. Electoral turnout in Slovakia has repeatedly been low since the country joined the EU. In fact, even young voters were unwilling to participate in the elections in 2014. Only 3% of students who could vote actually did.
Slovak MEP Monika Beňová is a member of the European Parliament since 2004, when Slovakia obtained a membership in European Union. (Photo by Ivana Hečková)
On the other hand, in Sweden, 3/4 of voting-eligible students participated in the last European elections. The total turnout in Sweden was 51.07%.
This figure is higher than the EU average of 42.61%, yet it’s still quite low compared to some other member states. For example, the turnout in Belgium was 89.64%. It should, however, be stated that unlike in Sweden, voting is compulsory in Belgium.
MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt has represented Sweden in the European Parliament since 2009. (Photo by Nina Sobotovičová)
“Sweden is unique in the sense that its voters generally have a high trust towards politicians and institutions,” Swedish MEP mrs Anna Maria Corazza Bildt said when asked about Sweden’s relatively high voter turnout. “Swedes feel that they can make an impact on their society, which I think contributes to the high turnout figures,” she added.
This is in stark contrast to attitudes of Slovak voters. “Slovaks feel that Brussels will work even without their involvement, that they are too passive. I believe that we do not have Europe in our DNA, we are always interested in what we can get from the European Union, not what we should give back,” Ms Beňová emphasised.
According to her, Slovaks need a conflict between individual candidates in the elections to gain their interest, so they can choose who is their favourite politician. “They find a conflict in parliamentary and presidential elections, but not in the election to European Parliament,“ Ms Beňová said.
She is confident that many Slovaks want their MEPs to lobby for their interests in EP, but they are mostly not interested in the European institutions, how they work and what they represent. “They are saying that – you are a Slovak in the European Parliament, solve problems of Slovak people there,” Ms. Beňová added.
According to both MEPs, the question of how to motivate more citizens to participate in elections has remained on the agenda. In recent years academics have become less optimistic about the Internet’s ability to promote political participation and voter turnout. Estonia has been the first country in the world to introduce the i-voting system in 2005 as a natural step of the implementation of digital services offered by the state. Since then, it has given the possibility to all the citizens to vote securely and easily from their own computer. Regardless of this attempt of innovation, also the small Baltic state has seen a significant drop in participation during the last two European elections (from 43,9 to 36,5%). Tauno Tõhk, policy assistant of the European commissioner for the Digital Single Market, has remarked that in the Estonian case “i-voting doesn’t necessarily impact the overall participation rate because the group of people who vote would vote anyway; while people who don’t vote are not necessarily digitally savvy to use such a service”. Taking this into consideration, the differences in voter turnout can perhaps not be attributed to the differences in voting procedures, but rather to contrasting cultural attitudes towards the European Union. In conclusion, as the Estonian case shows what matters might not be whether voters cast our vote on a ballot or with a click on our laptop, but rather that they feel engaged.
Lorenzo Di Stasi
Wilhelm Sandelin Anton