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Most active voter mobilisation in Osdorp and De Baarsjes

17 January 2006 – There is considerable variation in the effort districts make to make people vote in the municipal and district elections on 7 March. Osdorp and De Baarsjes stand out, a study of News from Amsterdam shows. The turnout level can have important consequences for municipal policy.

Osdorp has the largest budget for voter mobilisation, that is 62,000 euro. In other districts this varies from 10,000 to 45,000 euro, while some have no budget at all. Collectively, they plan to spend 300,000 euro (see table in Dutch).

Osdorp will spend the money on promotion teams that will hand out flyers and gadgets in shopping centres. Also, an election event will be organised at the night of the election in the Meervaart. In collaboration with VMBO-schools, courses will be organised for young people.

The De Baarsjes district distinguishes itself by the intensive way in which community organisations will be involved in voter mobilisation. The district has visited about twenty organisations in order to hear what they need to mobilise voters. It also visited neighbourhood meetings, and it sent out letters to four hundred active residents.

About half of the De Baarsjes budget is reserved for initiatives of volunteer organisations, which receive five hundred euro per activity they organise. Organisations of immigrants, women, youth and the elderly will participate in this arrangement. The district also works with providers of language courses and with an elementary school.

Slotervaart and Zuidoost are most ambitious: they want to try to raise turnout by ten percentage point relative to four years ago. Slotervaart at least aims to equal turnout in Zuideramstel, traditionally the district where most people vote. De Baarsjes aims at an increase of five percentage points, Oud-West probably three percentage points. The other districts only want to improve turnout, or have stated no objective at all.

The Zuidoost district focuses on the young, who are invited to make suggestions through a website. Oud-West is to organise a cultural festival reminiscent of the Uitmarkt, and is considering targeting the young with a text message service. Geuzenveld will use the former resident and now tv-personality Henk Spaan. Zuideramstel (photo) will organise chat sessions with council members and a public accountability meeting.

Apart from voter mobilisation, several districts are organising courses to promote political participation among residents. In De Baarsjes the slogan ‘change your neighbourhood and start today’ is used. Participants will meet council members, the clerk and an activist, and they will submit a ‘citizens’ initiative’ that will be discussed by the district council.

This year, Amsterdam is to vote by use of a voting machine instead of the red pencil for the first time. In most districts, residents will be offered the opportunity to practice on the voting machine. Many districts further will offer their residents the help of a computer programme which suggests which political party best suits the policy preferences entered into the programme (the ‘stemwijzer’).

The municipality will publish an election newspaper in collaboration with the districts. It further provides information on the voting machine and may organise specific activities focussing on the young. At the municipal level, no objective has been set regarding turnout level.

For comparison, the The Hague municipality plans to spend 250,000 euro on a campaign targeting, among others, young people and which will involve dj’s and clubs. The municipality further hopes to attract more voters by offering them the opportunity to choose which polling station to use.

Rotterdam will announce which activities will take place by the end of January. In any case, young film makers will be asked to make animation or promotional films. In the past, Rotterdam has organised successful campaigns to raise turnout among immigrants.

Practical experience learns that an effective campaign may raise turnout by ten percentage points or more. This requires and intensive and targeted campaign, in which citizens are personally invited to vote on a large scale. Good practical information and opportunities to practice on a voting machine can further increase the effectiveness.

Turnout tends to be lowest in neighbourhoods where many people with low incomes and low education live. If these people do not vote, the government can afford not to take their interests into account.

Indeed, international studies found that low turnout is related to governments that mainly serve the interests of the richer inhabitants. With lower turnout, taxes tend to be lower, as well as investments in social policies.

Data on voter mobilisation in Amsterdam can be found here (in Dutch)

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