On November 19, Copenhagen celebrates democracy as the city heads to the polls during nationwide local elections. Being able to vote allows all residents to have a say in the development of Copenhagen. For foreigners in particular, it is a chance to feel that you are integrated into Danish society and that you are truly citizens in Copenhagen.
In the 2009 local election, voter turnout among foreigners with the right to vote was only 30 percent. The reason why so few found their way to the ballot box may have been because they didn’t know they had the right to vote. Or because they couldn’t be bothered to figure out what their rights were. Or maybe they didn’t think their vote mattered.
I give you my word, it does matter. Voting gives you a say in the decisions that influence your lives and the lives of your families. It is also a way to prepare the ground for the foreigners who will choose to settle in Copenhagen in the years to come.
Are you happy with the city’s schools? Was it hard to find a place to live? How well do you feel the city did in welcoming you? Now is your chance to have your say.
In a democracy, we can vote for the candidates we feel can make a difference to the life of the city. But if you don’t participate, your voice won’t be heard. You need to get involved. Point out problems – and come up with solutions. And if your elected representatives need a good chewing out, you need to do that too.
Democracy is strengthened when we form an opinion and when we vote for people based on those opinions.
On October 30, I took part in a debate organised by CPH Volunteers and CPH International Service, which was attended by 300 Copenhageners who all come from abroad. The strong turnout indicates how interested foreigners are in the election.
Democracy, a team effort
Improving voter turnout will only happen if we work together. As city authorities we have our best to remind foreign residents that you have the right to vote and to make it as easy as possible for you to do so.
Our English website contains information about how you go about voting as a foreigner. At International House Copenhagen you can receive personal assistance with voting in the local election. And between now and the election, there will also be a number of opportunities to attend events related to democracy in Denmark and the role it plays in your community here in Copenhagen.
I am convinced that only a few of you who choose not to vote do so intentionally. Most people want to take part in the democratic process. And who wouldn’t? Because, honestly, if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain if the City Council at any point during the next four years takes a decision you don’t agree with. If you don’t vote, you’ve got no-one to blame but yourself.
Foreign residents – fellow Copenhageners – on November 19 you have the chance to make yourself heard. Use your democratic right to vote! Not for my sake. Not for my party’s sake. Do it for the sake of democracy. And, most of all, do it for your own sake.
It is up to you.
The author is the lord mayor of Copenhagen.