A few days ago I got to vote in The Netherlands. How come? As a European citizen I am allowed to vote in the municipal (local) elections of any country in the EU. Had I not been a EU citizen, I would have gotten that same opportunity after officially residing for 5 non-uninterrupted years in the country. All in all, what is voting in The Netherlands like?

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20 options to choose from in The Hague

Voting when you live in The Netherlands: things to know

Firstly, to vote you need to be registered with the municipality of the city you live in. A few weeks prior to election day you receive a “stempas” at your home address. That document is kind of your official invitation, without it, no voting permitted.

Secondly, voting is not mandatory but the country does go out of its way to encourage you to do it. How so? It is almost impossible to set foot in the street without bumping into a voting station on election day. Be it at 7:30 in the morning or 9 in the evening. That simple!

The endless possibilities the city of The Hague offered were amazing: tram, bus, museums, bookshops, town hall, train stations, schools, hotels, libraries, retirement and nursing homes, gardening shops, sports hall and what not. You name it, I’m pretty sure it was possible to vote there! Local authorities definitely do all they can to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to express their opinion.

Voting when you live in The Netherlands: preparing for election day

In The Hague, the choice had to be made from 20 lists. No more, no less. Some pretty new to me, such as the animal party. Whatever your political views, there was something in there for everyone.

For my part, I decided to take a sort of online “test” to determine with which parties I am most aligned (considering the recent problems related to voter influencing on Facebook, I am happy/relieved to say this had nothing to do with the social network!). Kind of a voting guide: a list of 30 statements targeting the issues at play in the current election were presented. Three possible answers for each:  agree, disagree or neither. You can then add a few topics that are important to you and select which political parties you want your results to be compared with: some or all of them. The results show you, for each party you selected, how much you agree with their propositions in %.

Prior to this I already had a clear view on where I generally stand, a good thing after voting for so many years – being from Belgium where voting is compulsory kind of does that to you. It made it easy to take out many options and to narrow my choices down to 6 parties.

After taking my test, it seemed I was agreeing mostly with 3 parties: 55%, 52% and 45%. I carefully read their political manifesto and propositions and made my final choice.

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Passport and stempas in hand

Voting when you live in The Netherlands: election day

On election day, passport and “stempas” in hand, I headed out to the suggested address on my invitation, a school nearby my house. I wasn’t adventurous when picking my voting station, I could have gone to any of the available locations but as a newbie I opted for simplicity.

A big difference between The Netherlands, France and Belgium is that in those last 2 countries you can only vote in your assigned polling station whereas in The Hague you can vote across town if it pleases you.

So, here I was, stempas and passport in hand. No queue or anything, mostly older people in my area.

I received a huge piece of paper on which I found the 20 lists. I walked to a polling station that had no curtain which I thought was funky: anyone can see what you do in there. Here again, big difference with Belgium and France where secrecy is the key word on this special occasion.

I unfolded my huge ballot and with the red pencil attached to the voting cabin shelf, I coloured the red circle next to a name from the list I had picked. Did you notice how I wrote “a name” and not “the name”?

Now, I studied hard for the election but one thing I forgot to do is go through the names on the list! In Belgium you can vote for the list itself but in The Netherlands you do not have that option, you need to pick someone. Oh well, I opted for the first one on the list as I thought he/she stood the better chances to be elected (or maybe not?). I have 4 years to figure this out as municipal elections take place every 4 years!

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A ballot and red pencil

Voting when you live in The Netherlands: why do I care so much about voting?

Voting gives me a sense of freedom. Give me a chance to express my views, to cast my vote and I’ll take it. I take voting very seriously. I see it as an opportunity to block far right and nationalistic parties. Each vote you cast, whatever you pick, left, right or center, is a vote extremists won’t get. One less chance to see dangerous people take over power. People who vote for extremist parties do not think twice about going voting, they just go. Hence I feel an urgent need to take every chance that presents itself to block them from reaching power or at least to make sure they don’t get all of it.

Not voting is not an option for me. In Belgium, it is mandatory. Everyone does it as soon as they reach the age of 18. I’ve heard people say it is not democratic to impose it. Seriously? How  can that not be the most democratic vote ever? Everyone express their opinion, the result is a fair representation of what people think. Not just an image of what a mere 60% of the potential voters think.

Moreover, voting doesn’t mean you have to give your vote to a list. You can just do an act of presence which is already expressing your opinion. By handing in a “white vote” or an invalid one, you say something, you make sure your voice is heard.

Voting is also not an option if you want to have your saying in political decisions being taken. Municipal elections concern you as its results will impact your daily life. Not voting takes away your right to disagree, to complain, to be unsatisfied. That is, of course, if you were legally allowed to vote. Voting empowers me to say something is not right, empowers me to complain if I want to, empowers me as a citizen of the place I live in.

Voting is essential for me, I wish it was essential to more people. It can be frustrating when nothing changes but it would be worst if things changed in the wrong direction.

I don’t try to impose my views on others and would not tell someone to vote if they don’t want to. To be honest, I didn’t win with my husband who doesn’t care much for voting. One of my biggest victory is hearing my almost 13-year-old daughter say she understands the importance of voting and showing interest in the matter.

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Voting station