We’re gearing up for elections in March here in the Netherlands. My voting card (stempas) came in the mail the other day, and I was reminded of just how easy it is to (register to) vote here. This, in comparison to the pain in my behind it was to register to vote as an absentee voter in Ohio. And, let me tell you, it’s gotten a lot easier since e-mail communication is finally allowed! I’m no political expert, and I’m an advocate for keeping my blog a politics-free zone, but I think I can allow this one little blog about the differences in voting between the Netherlands and the U.S. I think…
No need to register to vote. Except for a few exceptions for UN workers, you must register with your local government when you live in the Netherlands (and most other EU countries). This registration is not only to ensure you are legally allowed to live and work here, but also registers you with various local and national tax authorities and takes care of those important pesky items like a parking permit. And, if you are legally allowed to vote in the country, you are also automatically registered to vote. Every single person who lives in the Netherlands and is allowed to vote receives a voter card on the same day. No need to take any additional action whatsoever. Easy peasy!
Proxy voting. If, for whatever reason, you live in the country but won’t be around on election day, you can give a proxy vote to just about anyone. It’s super easy. There is a power of attorney/proxy authorization on the back side of your voter card. Just fill it out, give the person voting on your behalf a copy of your identification, and that’s it. I know it’s possible to vote by mail or absentee ballot in the U.S., but having lived overseas for most of my adult life, I also know the absentee ballot takes time to arrange. If you suddenly need to leave town (like finding your schedule changed so that you have to jet off for an overnight trip), you’re out of luck.
Identification. I’m not going to go into a legal treatise about voter identification laws in the U.S. Suffice it to say that there are problems that need resolution. In the Netherlands, I do need to present a passport, identification card, or Dutch driver’s license. BUT none of these has to be valid. It’s sufficient if the form of identification has been expired for no more than five years.
Easy to vote. The polls are open until 9 p.m. in the Netherlands. Although polling station opening times in the U.S. vary widely, the vast majority close at least an hour earlier. And there are quite a few more polling stations as well. There is one polling station per 1,700 Dutch voters as opposed to one station for 2,796 US voters. I realize that’s not really a fair comparison as the U.S. is a huge country with lots of remote areas, but it does give you an idea of how easy it is to find a polling station in the Netherlands. Mine is literally a block away.
Multi-parliamentary system. The Netherlands has a multi-party system, which is pretty awesome since two parties with diametrically opposed ideas doesn’t always work. Okay, to be honest, the Dutch have gone a bit overboard with this recently. 81 – yes 81! – parties tried to get on the ballot for the March elections. This is – obviously – a record amount and not all of these parties made it to the ballot (28 still did). To give you an indication of how strange this is, there are currently 11 parties represented in the parliament.
What about the other expats out there? Any other positive takeaways from your home away from home?