KV17 – STORY # 4 – COUNTING VOTES
IN DANISH, KV17 IS SHORT FOR MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS 2017. ON 21 NOVEMBER, DANISH VOTERS WILL DECIDE THE POLITICAL COMPOSITION OF 98 MUNICIPAL COUNCILS AND 5 REGIONAL COUNCILS. THIS TAKES PLACE EVERY FOUR YEARS, AND ALWAYS ON THE THIRD TUESDAY IN NOVEMBER. THIS IS CAST IN STONE AND DIFFERS FROM ELECTIONS FOR PARLIAMENT, WHICH CAN BE CALLED BY THE PRIME MINISTER WITHIN THE PERIOD OF MAXIMUM FOUR YEARS. DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN, I WILL POST A SERIES OF STORIES ABOUT SMALL AND LARGE ISSUES THAT DEFINE THE SPECIAL ‘DEMOCRATIC CULTURE’ OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN DENMARK.
STORY # 4
VOLUNTEERING TO COUNT THE VOTES
Party posters hanging from lampposts is part of the scenery all over the city now.
I have voted in every parliamentary and municipal election since I turned 18. Admittedly, on a few occasions I have actually considered staying at home, becoming what we call a ‘couch voter’, because I felt disappointed in the way the politicians behaved, or because I disagreed with virtually all the political parties on some important issues. However, at the end of the day, I always decided that it was important to show up and make a choice, even if it would not be as perfect a choice as I would have liked.
Such is life in a democracy! When the Constitution gives you the right to vote, I believe it is the duty of the citizen to show up and let her preference be counted. Rather than staying at home on the couch, you should show up, and if you are seriously fed up with the state of politics, you can cast a blank vote. That is also a legitimate choice in a democracy. I have never cast a blank vote by the way. Despite my concerns, I always decided that there was, after all, a politician or a party that could be trusted to represent my interests in a decent manner.
So on 21 November, I will definitely cast my vote. Telling you what political party or politician I will choose is not part of this series of municipal election stories. But those of you who know me personally will also know the values and principles I have supported consistently over many decades, so you will probably be able to guess the two or three parties that would be my logical choices. Contrary to my mother, who voted for the Social Democrats in every election, just like her father in Norway had done, I have moved around among the parties a bit. This is what a majority of Danish voters do these days. They ‘shop around’ in the political party supermarket, assessing the quality and price of the goods offered by the political parties. This was not at all the case in the 1960’s, when my career as a ‘voter’ started.
During my professional years travelling the world to share my thinking about democracy and sharing stories about Danish democratic practices in particular, I have always been proud to talk about the election procedures, especially the counting of votes. I vividly remember the parliamentary election in 2011, the same year the Arab Spring transformed some of the countries in the Middle East. At the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy, I was involved in bringing young Egyptian politicians to Denmark to personally experience how we conduct elections in an old democracy. They liked what they saw, and they were particularly intrigued by the manual counting of the votes.
In Denmark, no machinery is involved. When your name has been checked by the election officials, you are given a long piece of paper with all parties and candidates lined up, and with a pencil you put your X in front of a party in general or in front of a specific party candidate. When voting ends, the election officials start counting all the paper votes carefully. The final numbers are then reported to the central election authorities. Mostly all of this is finalized around midnight, and we trust the numbers counted by hand in the hundreds of voting stations around the country. After all, trust is a key ingredient in a ‘democratic culture’.
“Why don’t you sign up as a volunteer election official this time?” my wife asked me around a month ago. “You have talked so much about the many virtues of our democracy, and you have always voted, but you have never been part of the election machinery. You can sign up on the website of the municipality, it is very easy!”
It was indeed very easy. First it took me a few minutes to read about the need of the municipality to recuit volunteers to help with the checking of names when people arrive at the voting station, handing out the ballot, showing people the way to the voting booth, making sure that people cast the vote in full privacy, then ensuring that the ballot is saved securely in the ballot box, and finally counting the votes. I was also informed that if I volunteered for a full day, starting at 7 am and ending around midnight, I would be offered three good meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition, I would also be paid a small honorarium for volunteering. Finally it only took me another few minutes to register.
So I am now officially a ‘volunteer election official’ in the 2017 municipal election in the city of Copenhagen. In a few days I will receive a Guidance Note that will prepare me for the tasks I will be asked to perform, and I will share this with you in a separate story. This also means that one of the last stories in this series will be a report about what happened on election day, starting at seven in the morning and ending at midnight.