Senior citizens of Copenhagen give digital democracy the go-ahead
In October and November 2012, the City of Copenhagen executed the largest digital Senior Citizens' Council election in Denmark. More than 80,000 citizens over the age of 60 were given the option of voting digitally. Candidates were for the first time able to present themselves on the net and be trained as digital 'ambassadors'.
Senior citizens are often thought of as the weakest group when it comes to using online digitalised public services. But the general experience in the City of Copenhagen has been positive when it comes to senior citizens' willingness and ability to communicate via the internet and to use digital self-service solutions. After all, the majority of pensioners apply for their pension on the internet. The City of Copenhagen has found that a large number of senior citizens are more IT-savvy than generally thought of. More and more people over the age of 60 know their way around the Internet. The City of Copenhagen is at the same time aware that not all senior citizens are confident when faced with the new digital systems. In order to look after everyone's needs in connection with Senior Citizens' Council election and to ensure that digital voting was not a cause of people failing to vote, a paper ballot option was also provided.
The municipality informed senior citizens of the pending election by letter, enclosing both the traditional polling card and a voting code which allowed them to vote digitally. It was up to the individual to choose between the postal or digital solution.
As expected, seniors were well disposed to the option of casting their vote digitally. The support line linked to the election was not completely quiet however; but often the questions came from citizens who thought the Senior Citizens' Council election was not relevant for them, since they did not consider themselves to be 'senior'!
In addition to the mailshot, the municipality election website provided information for candidates and voters. Candidates were introduced with photos and a summary of their reasons for standing for election to the Council, all in all enlivening the traditional way of presenting candidates.
To boost the public digital agenda in a broader sense and increase senior citizens’ knowledge of the digital self-service solutions, Copenhagen's Citizens' Service Office also offered candidates 'digital ambassador' courses. More than half the nominated candidates took part in the course, which covered the relevant digital self-service solutions on the net.
Digital opportunities in local democracy
A digital democratic infrastructure can, besides enabling Senior Citizens' Council elections, provide the platform for school and pupil board elections, user committee elections and other relevant ballots. At Assembly Voting the feeling is that election processes such as these are slowly but surely preparing the way for 'purely' digital elections taking the place of the paper ballot.
Digital democracy allows for the creation of a digital democratic dialogue independently of time and place and in non-election periods. A school board may for instance use an easily accessible cooperation platform to sound out all the school's parents on a specific problem for which they need input. On a wider level, citizens in a municipality can be involved in the progress of urban development projects, for example. It's an easily accessible platform, and one which allows us to utilise the resource that citizens represent to make qualified local decisions.
Senior Citizens' Council elections are held every four years.
All citizens over the age of 60 are entitled to vote.
On this occasion, 81,158 Copenhageners were given the chance to participate in the Senior Citizens' Council elections.
In 2012, voter turnout was 26 per cent. The previous vote in 2008 saw a turnout of 25 per cent.
Eighteen per cent of the votes were cast digitally.
For the 2012 election, the format of Council work changed from 12 area councils to a general Copenhagen Senior Citizens' Council.