The family have been travelling around North America since the spring promoting a new voting method and driving a van where people can write questions on subjects that matter to them. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

‘We think the democratic process is eroding’: Czech family visit Revelstoke promoting new voting method

In the Janeček voting method, voters can cast both positive and negative multiple votes

Instead of promoting a new voting system online, a Czech family that recently travelled through Revelstoke said they are doing it in-person instead.

Petra and Ondřej Schwarzová are traveling around North America, with their two young kids in a van where people can write questions directly its side.

“We are asking people what is important for them in life, what is their biggest hopes,” said Ondřej, who is the former director of the Institute for Democracy 21, an organization that advocates for citizens to become a more active part of governmental decision making processes.

The family plans to spend another two months in B.C. (Submitted)

“One of the biggest issues today is no-one cares about anything. We are all overwhelmed by information,” he continued.

The questions are to get people talking about what matters most to them and what could be important for voters.

“Voting is thought as a boring topic and a lot of people aren’t voting. They feel they cannot change anything with a vote. Maybe with a change, people would be more interested in politics,” said Petra.

According to Elections Canada, voter turnout for federal elections in the last nine elections was between 58 and 68 per cent. The all-time low of 58 per cent was in the 2008 election.

The next federal election is scheduled for Oct. 21.

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“Getting more people interested may take a lifetime, but I think it’s a good mission,” Petra said.

The Institute for Democracy 21 was funded in 2016 by mathematician and anti-corruption campaigner Karel Janeček.

In 2013, he financed a campaign urging Czechs to sign a petition to hold the president of Czech Republic at the time to account for corruption. During his last days as president of Czech Republic, Václav Klaus granted amnesty to a number of people accused of corruption.

The campaign eventually convinced the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic to undertake high treason proceedings against Klaus. However, he was never charged.

The couple still work for Janeček and this trip is in part, to campaign on his behalf.

The Institute for Democracy 21 promotes the Janeček voting method, where voters can cast multiple votes, which are split into positive and negative votes.

“We are starting to see more and more divided societies. It’s a big problem. We think the democratic process is eroding. It’s not working for people and there should be change,” Petra said.

According the Institute for Democracy 21’s website, many voting systems need upgrading to match a world rapidly changing.

Ondřej said the Janeček voting method helps to balance out extremes.

In 2018, the Institute for Democracy 21 held a mock vote for the Czech presidential election. More than 300,000 citizens took part and the winner of the mock vote was a different candidate than the actual election.

While the actual winner of the real election, Miloš Zeman, also had the most positive votes in the mock election, he also had the most negative, which suggested he was the most controversial.

Since the negative votes are subtracked from the positive votes, he lost the mock election.

“Some people who vote for someone controversial, also vote for people that are moderate. Voters are open to options,” Ondřej said.

There are examples of the Janeček voting method in use, such in New York City. The method can be used to help municipalities decide how to spend its budget.

In 2016, New Yokers were asked to vote on how to distribute $38 million among various different projects proposed by citizens.

Last month, Petra and Ondřej met with Revelstoke councillor Mike Brooks-Hill to introduce their voting method, which could be used in Revelstoke for municipal elections or budgetary spending.

While this is a work trip, the couple have had to spend some of their savings.

“It’s a life time journey. We wanted to step outside our bubble and meet people of so many views,” Petra said.

The couple have met a variety of people, such as Buddhist Vietnam war veteran who smacked into their rear view mirror and climate change deniers.

“Few people are going out there and talking to people. It’s like planting the seeds for discussion. That’s why we decided to step out from our bubbles and speak to people with different political backgrounds,” said Petra.

The couple will be in B.C. for another two months.

“There are a lot of hot springs here. And in these hot springs you can easily start conversation, because there are pauses,” said Ondřej.


 

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