The election question

01 Oct 2021

‘So, what does that actually mean?’ said my little cousin on the phone on Sunday evening. After a few weeks, we had finally found a free evening to catch up again and, soon enough, our conversation had moved towards the German federal election we both had just voted in. ‘Well, it looks like the Social Democrats are winning,’ I answered, refreshing my Twitter timeline for the umpteenth time that day, clicking from one graph showing the first results, with the Social Democrats winning by a few per cent ahead of the Conservatives to the next. ‘But I don’t know what’s next.’

A week later, it is probably just as impossible to answer the question of the What next as it was to catch a recent conversation between Germans that, at a certain point, did not circle back to the federal election. Voting was probably the hottest small talk topic during the last two weeks and no-one I know would have wanted to be caught death with an uncast voting ballot by the end of Sunday. It was a very important and exciting election – marking the end of Merkel’s reign as chancellor and a newly found (but ultimately still curbed) enthusiasm for the Green party –, even though the act of voting itself is always a bit boring.

That voting does sometimes feel like such a chore is a funny thought in itself, because universal voting rights are a very recent development. While many European countries introduced universal voting rights around one hundred years ago, women in Switzerland only received their right to vote in 1971. And for some local Swiss elections, not until 1990. Daniel Radcliffe? A year older than universal Swiss voting rights.

So why is casting ballots so boring? Political debates aren’t boring. Elections are generally widely discussed. Everything that involves politics is almost sure to give rise to some heated back-and-forth on social media. But for some reason, when our opinion is officially asked, the act of giving it is a bit anticlimactic. There is nothing exciting about standing in line or filling out forms for a letter vote. However, that, I would argue, is half the magic of it.

For most of history, the bulk of the male ­and the entirety of the female population weren’t asked their opinion when it came to public decisions. But ever since universal voting rights have been widely introduced a few decades ago, we have grown so accustomed to them that it now appears strange to us that some members of the Western European population were not allowed to participate until the 1990s.

Of course, having to fight for the right to vote would obviously be more exciting. And many people have done so in the past. But having to fight for universal voting rights is not the sign of a healthy democracy. Getting annoyed about having to fold a piece of paper, however, is probably the sign of a quite stable one.

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