How an organization turns young people into “first-choice professionals.”

As of: April 21, 2024 3:51 p.m

The European elections will take place in Germany on June 9th. This time, 16-year-olds are also allowed to go to the ballot box. But many first-time voters still have some question marks.

By Katharina von Tschurtschenthaler, NDR

Excitement among around two dozen tenth graders at the Heinrich Hertz School in Hamburg. They stand tightly packed around a table and look closely at the filled-out ballot papers – two parties have been marked on one of them. And another says “Bubatz legal”, i.e. cannabis legal.

“Does this mean this vote is invalid?” asks a student. This is unclear to the class – still. At the end of the day, they will be so-called “first election professionals”: They will simulate the European elections, learn who can vote, how votes are counted, and how to meet voters. In short: They will be prepared for their work as election workers on June 9th.

Tour of Hamburg schools

The first task: How should you appear on election day in order to make a good impression as “hosts of democracy”? “You have to approach people when they don’t really know what to do,” says 17-year-old Tim. “All social groups come here, so you should expect to speak slowly, even for older people.”

Don’t have a hangover, another student throws into the group. That’s a good point, replies Bernd Wilkens and laughs. He leads the “First Voting Professionals” workshop for the Hamburg Europa-Union, an organization that advocates for the unification of Europe and for as many people as possible to vote.

That’s why he and his colleagues toured Hamburg schools in the months before the election. Today to a tenth grader at the Heinrich-Hertz district school: Some here will graduate, some will start training after completing this school year.

How do European elections work? The students learn with cardboard booths and fictitious ballot papers.

No Choice recommendations

The EU is not necessarily a topic in school hallways. But many people are aware that Europe has a pretty big impact on their lives.

“I was able to go to Croatia, and there is currently a class that is in Barcelona. This exchange was completely funded by the EU and was made possible in the first place. Many people couldn’t afford it otherwise,” says the 18-year-old. Year old Finn. And that he thought it was important that many people went to the polls because Europe had changed as a result of the pandemic and the rise of right-wing parties.

Today it’s not about the parties’ programs, but about the act of voting itself. Bernd Wilkens makes it clear that giving election recommendations is not his job. Nevertheless, many students seem to be interested.

“The election is secret”

“At the moment it’s a lot about how right-wing parties are developing. We talk a lot in the classes about how the influence is there, how the conditions are developing and what effects that can have on site,” says Wilkens.

Meanwhile, the students have converted their classroom into “Electoral District 10101.” The voting booth made of cardboard can be assembled in just a few steps, there is only one catch – the cardboard booths are at the window. “Theoretically, someone could look in here and see who I’m voting for – but the election is secret,” explains Bernd Wilkens.

Today, fictitious parties representing all political camps are up for election. The first test round of voting is still a bit bumpy: when people cast their votes, they pile up because one of them can’t identify themselves, the address lists are mixed up, everyone shouts into the room at the same time and becomes impatient – complete chaos in the polling station.

The 10th grade students at the Heinrich Hertz School have converted their classroom into “Electoral District 10101”.

The students are still undecided

“We simply handed out too many ballot papers,” says 16-year-old Wim and shrugs his shoulders. “Well, it happens. That’s what we practice here too.” The 16-year-old doesn’t yet know which party he will vote for on June 9th. He is particularly interested in the topics of the environment and climate.

David, 18, is also still undecided. “When it comes to education, the party I vote for should first create proper digitalization in schools. In small steps.”

Most of the 10f class have not yet dealt with the election programs, but it is clear to them that they will vote. And some of the class will support the European elections as poll workers.

Finn, for example. “I think that’s a cool thing. Then you can do something with a Sunday instead of just curing the hangover,” he says with a grin. And then adds more seriously: “I also want to do Interrail this summer and see Europe. So why not give something back?”

Katharina Tschurtschenthaler, NDR, tagesschau, April 18, 2024 10:55 a.m

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