The U18 initiative is a simulated vote that takes place nine days ahead of real ‘adult’ elections, either local or national. The project is designed to generate an interest in politics amongst young people and supplement their political education.
Understanding politics can be daunting for young people. U18 helps to make it fun and accessible. Throughout the year, participants study manifestos, form parties and debate with politicians, culminating in a mock election which takes place a week ahead of the real elections. Any organisation dealing with young people, from schools to youth centres, can register as a ‘polling station’, and benefit from online teaching resources. With a current lack of political education taking place in schools, the scheme helped reach 198,365 young people from diverse backgrounds at the 2013 parliamentary election, and is ever growing both in size and reputation.
Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF: http://nws.eurocities.eu/MediaShell/media/Cities%20in%20action_U18_Berlin.pdf
This project was awarded the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2012 in the following category: Participation.
U18 began in 1996 at a Berlin youth club in the district of Berlin-Mitte, but now takes place in various locations around the city and across the country. Schools, youth clubs and other organisations connected with young people, such as libraries, can register with the U18 website as a polling station. Mobile polling stations are placed on streets and squares to ensure the project reaches a wide range of young people. As an element of competition, each polling station then designs its own ballot box or booth used at the U18-election, with the best winning a prize after voting has taken place.
The project provides young people from all nationalities and backgrounds with an accessible channel into politics, given that political education in schools is not always sufficient to get them really interested in politics.
The organisations registered as polling stations and other individuals can access a range of teaching materials available on the U18 website, which are used as a basis for the preparation in the year running up to the election. Throughout this year, young people take part in a range of activities. These include studying manifestos, forming parties, carrying out voluntary and charitable activities and debating with politicians.
Many politicians back the project by meeting young people, coordinating tours of the House of Representatives or acting as patrons of the initiative. The project is also supported by the Senate Department and Berlin’s borough offices, by providing rooms, funding and educational materials. A steering group, comprised of representatives from the numerous youth organisations behind the project, is responsible for overseeing its management.
Then, nine days before the real elections, these activities culminate in an election for children and youngsters, which is conducted just like a real ballot vote – the parties and candidates are the same. The registered organisations download ballots from the U18 website and provide a voting booth which, like the real ones, closes at 18:00. Once closed, voters can follow the results projections online and a twohour election broadcast is also put together by the young people.
The project is mainly financed by the department for education of the Berlin Senate and a number of other organisations. Some boroughs also allocated funding from their own budgets, as well as resources such as staff and rooms.
Since the first polling booth opened in 1996, participation has continued to increase steadily. In 2001, 5,000 young people voted in the U18 elections ahead of the Berlin House of Representatives elections and by 2016 that number had risen to 25,504. A survey carried out to gauge the impact of the project revealed that U18 voters are very interested in political issues and that their decisions are usually based on facts and made more confidently than those without the preliminary education provided by the project. Interestingly, the results recorded from the Berlin House of Representatives U18 elections in 2011 differed somewhat from the real results, with the young people favouring the green party overall, which was placed third in the real elections, where the young people’s second choice, the social democratic party gained the most votes.
During the preparation phase of an election, the participating organisations cooperate to provide young people with knowledge about politics. The pooling stations and coordination centres organise activities through which young people can develop their own opinion about political parties and be critical about the propositions made by politicians.
The commitment of young people happens at several levels during an election. In the run-up to an election, the staff at the polling stations are sought out by the young people to organise discussions and debates. Nine days before the real election, young peopole can choose a voting place, tick off their first and second votes, and then cast the ballot into a ballot box. Afterwards, they are also responsible for the counting of the ballots. A live election coverage organised at the parliamentary elections in 2009 and 2013, as well as at the election for the parliament of Berlin in 2011 gave young people the opportunity to ask questions to politicians and to learn media skills. Afterwards, pedagogical institutions are responsible for ensuring the follow-up and benefit from didactic support available on the U18 website.
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