How a festival got young people to vote

‘The elections are about our future’

Lisette Mijnen

A mere 30 percent of all young people in the 18-27 age group voted during the 2014 European elections. Lisette Mijnen (1994) felt that number was far too low. She joined forces with fifteen other students to encourage higher youth turnout during the 2019 European elections.

So how do you get young people to the voting booth? Lisette (a Biomedical Sciences alumnus and Health Sciences Master's student) and other members of AEGEE Utrecht (a local chapter of the interdisciplinary AEGEE Europe student network) joined forces to explore this important question. Together, they developed Y Vote Utrecht. The initiative, which started as a pie-in-the-sky idea, soon evolved into an international festival and youth movement centred around the European elections: the Speak Europe Festival.

Communicating the EU's importance

So why are young people less likely to vote in EU elections? Lisette: European elections don't make the news much and tend to be overshadowed by other events. As a result, most young people aren't really aware of them. More importantly: you need to know the issues before you can actually go and vote. We set up Y Vote Utrecht to make young people more aware of what the EU actually does.

A lot of young people have no idea just how much influence the EU really has on our daily lives

You can achieve that by making the issues a bit more relatable, as Lisette explains. ‘A lot of young people have no idea just how much influence the EU really has on our daily lives. For example, if it weren't for the EU, your internet bundle would only work in the Netherlands. The EU also makes sure there's no fipronil in your fried eggs. All our communications and events are designed to strike a chord with young people. We closely monitor all EU-related news and explain the issues in clear terms.' 

'All the activities at our festival were designed to be accessible and relatable. For example, we organised theatre performances, a mini lecture on lobbying, lectures on the millennium targets and democracy, a pub quiz and boy band concert. We closed the festival with a debate highlighting the various parties' positions and motivations.

Lisette Mijnen

Not reinventing the wheel

AEGEE called in the help of other student societies, fifty volunteers and various organisations to get Y Vote Utrecht and the festival up and running. ‘We tied in the events with other student activities where possible. That helped us draw attention to the elections at lots of events around the country without having to organise everything ourselves.’ However, they also needed funding to pay for the festival site, catering and other expenses.

I heard about the Utrecht University Fund's crowdfunding platform. We thought that would be a good way to raise money. Thankfully, we didn't have to reinvent the wheel. The fundraisers at the Utrecht University Fund were extremely helpful. They advised us to get our ideas down on paper first so we could clearly communicate our message and project targets to potential donors. The fund even had a useful template which was really helpful. In addition to making the crowdfunding process easier, having a clear narrative also helped us communicate the project and recruit volunteers more effectively. In the end, we raised almost 1,600 euros!

I hope Y Vote Utrecht and AEGEE Europe help us chart a new course for young people

So did Y Vote Utrecht achieve its objective and get more young people to vote? The number of young voters actually doubled in the Netherlands. Obviously, we have no way of telling whether that was because of our efforts. Still, I think the festival and Y Vote Utrecht were definitely successful. We brought together over 400 young people and showed them how the EU can contribute to their lives. It also sparked my own passion for politics. I've been talking to young people in other European countries, and it's clear we have a lot in common. Elections are about our future. We're all Europeans, so we need to make our voices heard. In the end, I hope Y Vote Utrecht and AEGEE Europe help us chart a new course for young people.

Our crowdfunding platform exists for the benefit of our entire academic community. Scientists and student organisations can use this platform to set up crowdfunding campaigns of their own. This is a way for benefactors to assist in carrying out scientific research and to support student initiatives in Utrecht and our education in general. By leaving a message, they can tell others about their donation and involvement in our cause.

Y Vote wasn't the only initiative to raise funds through our crowdfunding platform in 2019. DUB (the Digital U-blad university newsletter) celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The publication used crowdfunding to finance its specially-themed anniversary edition on 50 years of student life. Departing UU staff members also used the platform to raise money for the RechtOpLeren Fund and other initiatives.

This story appeared in the 2019 annual report of the Utrecht University Fund

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Utrecht University Fund: Annual report 2019