Children get to vote in Gothenburg referendum

Children in Gothenburg are to become the first in the world to be given the vote in a referendum.

Two official referendums will be held in which only children between 5 and 12 will be eligible to vote. The results of the polls will decide two local issues – the appearance of a new tram and the design of a new library card. They will run concurrently with the Swedish local elections and general election, with polls open from 30th August to general election day, 17th September.

While the questions being decided might not have far-reaching effects on the future of the nation, the local council says it is a way of getting kids interested in democracy at an early age.

“We want to grab children’s interest for participating in elections and bring home the message that every vote counts at an early stage,” said Bill Werngren, head of Gothenburg’s election committee.

Werngren says that the Swedish Election Authority and political scientists at Gothenburg University both say they have never heard of anything similar elsewhere in the world.

“In the US, the organization Kidsvote is active in many states, with roughly the same idea and purpose. But there the kids vote for the same proposals as the adults, the votes aren’t counted and they have no practical effect.”

“Here the whole point is for the children’s votes to be counted. We don’t want some opinion poll and some vague promise to ‘take this into account’. We will do what the children vote for,” he said.

The process of voting will be similar for children as for adults. Each child will get a ballot paper and an envelope and will fill it in behind green, triangular screens resembling those in adult elections in Sweden. The only difference will be that the screens will be scaled down to take account of the diminutive citizens standing behind them.

Polling places for children will be open in libraries and local government offices, which will also be open for adult voters to cast their ballots in advance for the local and national elections.

Werngren hopes that when children go to vote, they might also shame non-voting parents.

“Perhaps it will lead to the kids saying to their mums and dads,’Now I’ve voted, why don’t you?'”

The Local