During the first weeks of April Finland had their parliamentary elections. Therefore Nordic Council of Minister's offices in Lithuania and Latvia decided to organise a study-visit for better understanding of how youth gets involved in the pre-election process.
To be more concrete the process we were deepening our knowledge about was the mock elections. The mock election is an election simulation, which in Finland happens around most of the school a week before 'the normal elections' A study-visit was organised mostly for Latvian pupils and teachers, but Lithuanian youth council and Lithuanian students association, also got an invitation for a sneak peek to this procedure.
During the first day, we got more familiar with the Finnish youth council's work and the support of the ministry of justice support towards the initiative. Most interesting fact for me was that since this year the mock elections process is funded not as a project-based activity, but has its own continuous funding.
The second day was the most exciting. Our group was taken to one of the best High-schools in Helsinki and shown how the process is held in practice. We got to talk with school students association's representatives, teachers and also school's officials. Personally, I spent most of the time talking with youngsters. They showed me the process of checking in a student in the system when one comes to vote, also O got to see the voting-booths and even got to taste gingerbread cookies which were displayed on the table for everyone to grab whenever they are done the voting. 'That's how we get people to come' told me one of the school students representatives. When the conversation caught the speed I started asking for more detailed things, such as 'what do you do and say when an 18-year-old comes to vote here in the mock elections?' 'Here we do not let them vote and say that is more important than go and vote in the real elections. Because we have heard some cases in which those 'fresh' adults confuse mock elections with the real ones and think that their vote here counts as if they have voted normally'. They also have very nice initiatives before the mock election starts. This time they had a debate with real and serious politicians 'yeah, we had TV and radio journalists over in our school when we conducted the debate, so it was pretty cool'. Second of all, their teachers mostly the ones teaching social or humanitarian subjects have to go through democratic, political and civic educational curriculums until they turn up here to vote.
It was really beautiful to see active students, but passionate teachers, youth council's representatives who work with this day by day and now (before these elections) had made an app in which you can check who from the candidates have the most similar views and opinions to yourself. The thing, which surprised me was also not only the engagement of the youth but also the engagement and support from the various institution' side.
In Lithuania, we are trying to make the wish of voting from 16 become reality. Most of the youth organisations who were for this document said that it would raise the habit in a young person to vote to know how and for what. After this study-visit say, that mock election is one of the greatest existing tools for raising the generation with the voting habit. Because we need youngsters having dialogues with the stakeholders also we need to make sure that youth voice counts (that's why the Finnish youth council's idea to announce this year's results while on live in the national TV is a great idea).
Hopefully during upcoming elections we, LiJOT, will also be able to start first ever mock elections across the country and start planting this seed of democracy and very good habit.