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Again and again, adults “go to vote”. For children, this topic remains uninteresting for quite a long time. But because in many countries you can vote from the age of 16, you should know a little about it.
To understand politics in your country, you need to understand basic concepts. We would like to give you a brief introduction to these as well.
Basic Concepts Of Democracy
We live in a Democracy. This means that power comes from the people (i.e. us citizens). It was not always so. During the Second World War, we were ruled by a dictator who was allowed to rule alone. Since the post-war period, peace has become a very important value for us, which must be protected at all costs. Unfortunately, it is not the case everywhere in the world that people are allowed to participate in decision-making and live together in peace. This makes it all the more important to uphold democracy in our own country.
In order for us to remain free and participate with each other in important decisions in the state, we as a people have a number of rights in democracy. The most important of these is the right to vote. It says that you may choose secretly and freely who comes to power and who does not. You can have your say without anyone being able to force you to vote for a particular party.
By the way, you can get involved not only in elections for your own interests. From time to time, there are referendums, petitions for referendums and popular consultations that ask for your opinion. Take part in them to represent your rights and support a good cause.
By actively participating in the political process, you contribute to the continuation of democracy. The following features are the basic tenets of any democracy and should be protected at all costs.
Separation Of Powers
In a democracy, the power of the state is divided among different levels. Thus, it is impossible for one to be in charge alone.
There are three distinct powers: The legislative power (legislature), the executive power (executive), and the law-making power (judiciary). Each of the three controls the other two. If you want to learn more about this, read our article “What is democracy and why is it so important?”
In democratic countries there is Religious Freedom. This means that you are free to decide which religion you want to belong to. Freedom of religion is closely linked to the separation of church and state.
Separation Of Church And State
In the past, it has often not gone well when church and state were represented by one and the same person. Such a thing does not happen in a democracy. Because here everyone is allowed to decide for himself about his faith. No one is allowed to have a disadvantage because he believes in something different than the majority of the rest of the population.
So that the state cannot abuse its power at the level of the church, there is a strict separation between church and state. That is why in some European countries it is forbidden to wear religious symbols in public buildings.
The basis of every democracy is the fundamental rights of the people. If you know human rights, then you already know a lot about fundamental rights. Because they partly refer to essential human rights like freedom of speech or the right to food.
The basic rights are partly written down in the constitution. It states exactly how the state functions, how an election is to take place and how a law can be passed. Unlike simple laws, the constitution cannot simply be amended. And that is a good thing.
How Does The Election Work?
In Europe, there are different levels of elections. There are National Council (Bundestag), state parliament and municipal elections. You can also vote for the European Parliament. There are also elections for the Federal President.
Normally, we do not vote directly. That means that you don’t vote for a certain person, but for a party. Sometimes you can give preferential votes to certain people in the party you prefer.
Once you are allowed to vote, you get a letter some time before the election. It will say where you can go to vote. You must take this letter and a photo ID with you to the polls.
In the so-called Polling station (usually public places like schools or kindergartens) is where the election is held. There you pick up your ballot and go to a booth on the spot. The purpose of this booth is that you can tick the ballot undisturbed and unobserved who or which party you want to vote for. This prevents you from being blackmailed or pressured during the election.
As soon as you have finished, put your ballot paper into the enclosed envelope and drop it into the Ballot box ballot box. This is a box with a slot where the envelopes are collected. It remains closed and must not be opened. Its contents, i.e. the individual ballots, are secret for the time being. Only when the election is over is the ballot box emptied. Then its contents can be counted. Incidentally, these processes are strictly monitored to prevent electoral fraud. So it is almost impossible for a party to cheat in the election.
By the way, you don’t have to give anyone any information if you are asked about what you voted for. Not even your employer is allowed to ask you which party you belong to. What you vote for is your secret until you talk about it openly. If you prefer to keep it to yourself, that’s just as well.
Just a few hours after the election, the first Projections. On the basis of the first counted votes, one tries to find out very early on how the votes relate to each other. In this way, one can already determine quite precisely which parties are among the winners and which have received only a few votes.
Depending on how large the proportion of votes is, the party receives a number of Mandates. This basically means nothing other than the seats in parliament. The more seats a party has, the more strongly it is represented in parliament.
The parties with the most votes usually form the Government. The government, that is the ministers and the chancellor.
Parties with fewer votes form the opposition. They keep a close eye on the government and make sure that everything is done properly. The opposition parties are usually quite critical and always have something to say about the government’s course. That is normal and a good thing. Because that’s how the government has to make an effort to stick to its promises.
It Depends On Your Vote
Those parties that get a lot of votes have more power in the state. They may even get into the government. Therefore, your vote is something very important that has a great impact on politics in the state.
Your vote helps to shape politics. For example, in the following areas:
Education and scholarships
Why You Should Vote
Now you know which areas of politics your vote has an influence on and why voting is the basis of every democracy
But do you also know what it means not to vote? This is exactly the question we have investigated.
What Does Not Voting Mean?
Every citizen with the right to vote has a say in politics. If you don’t go to the polls, you don’t have a say. That means you’re letting others decide about you and your life without having an impact on it.
You may think that your vote is just one of many. This is true. Nevertheless, the implications of this thought are enormous. Fewer and fewer people go to the polls. They give up the right to vote because they are not interested in the politics of their country. But in doing so, they are giving up any reins and allowing themselves to be determined without being asked for their opinion. The declining voter turnout signals: The people don’t seem to care what happens in the state.
This can be very dangerous. Because history has taught us that indifferent people quickly become victims of abuse of power. Always remember that there were also times when people were not allowed to vote. That is why you should go and vote just because you can.
Silent Protest? There Is Another Way!
Did you know that non-voters are the second largest group of voters in Austria? The fact that so many people have no interest in politics is frightening and yet understandable. After all, the most common reason for not voting is dissatisfaction with the politicians themselves. People think that it doesn’t matter who they vote for. Either way, nothing good comes out of it.
If you want to protest against current politics, however, it is still better to vote for a minor party than to completely renounce the right to vote. Because by doing so, you’re signaling to the larger parties, “I don’t like the way you’re working!”
You Make The Difference!
In fact, every vote affects the outcome of the election. In fact, your vote may make the difference between two parties and ultimately have a decisive impact.
Get A Perspective
Before elections, each party has an election program. It states what the party wants to change in the future and what its priorities are. On the basis of this election program, you can decide which party appeals to you the most.
Of course, you should also find out more about the party you want to vote for. It is not uncommon for people to only partially adhere to the election program. So find out about the values and priorities of your favorite party and then decide whether it can really represent your interests well.
For kids who are voting for the first time, politics is hard to understand. The flood of technical terms in politics can quickly become overwhelming. To help you find your way around, you can use neutral information platforms on the Internet. They will help you make use of your right to vote despite your uncertainties.
On some portals, you can even fill out a questionnaire to find out which party best matches your answers. This is particularly convenient. However, even this questionnaire is no substitute for a more detailed examination of the party principles.
Below you will find a list of information portals for kids from Germany and Austria.
Election information for kids from Austria.
Election information for kids from Germany.
Worksheet For The Text
1) Explain the difficult words from the text.
Freedom of religion
2) Where can you look if you’re not sure who to vote for?
3) Go to one of the sites above and do some research on the parties you are considering. While doing so, answer the following questions:
What does the party plan to do about education?
What are the party’s priorities?
How successful has the party been so far and how much power does it currently have?
What differences and what similarities to other parties can you identify?
What does the party bring to you as a young person?