Observing elections to improve democracy
The mission deployed 4 observers in two teams of two. These were registered with The Netherlands’s Ministry of The Interior and Kingdom Relations. These four observers were accredited to observe across The Netherlands. They made 44 separate observations across the several municipalities. They were:
Amsterdam 17 Observations, The Hague 13 Observations, Leiden 6 Observations, Delft 4 Observations, Zoetermeer 2 Observations, Rijswijk 2 Observations.
Each observation was conducted in pairs to allow for objective observation and the observers then agreed their opinions of the electoral process before submitting data.
The observations generally took between twenty and thirty minutes per polling station as the observers were asked to ensure that they attempted to see the entire process, which included staff greeting electors on arrival at the polling station. This happened on every occasion.
The organisation of polling stations was well run across the area of observation, voters could clearly see how to access voting and staff were trained to manage the process.
Polls were open from 7.30am to 9pm and the teams were asked to observe an opening as well as a closing of a polling station and tour polling stations throughout the day.
Counting began almost immediately, based in the polling stations before results were transmitted to the central count for checking.
Overall the election was extremely well run. There are, however, some issues that the observer teams identified which are specific to The Netherlands which will be discussed here.
The team identified, often lengthy, queues at most polling stations. These tended to be present at predictable times of day; opening, lunchtime, 5pm and Closing. In some cases there were more than 50 voters waiting at any one time.
The Ballot Paper
Extensive concern was raised with our observer group by a series of interlocutors which we met as part of our observation. The team met a series of local party activists to inform the observation.
Although interlocutors often believed that the size of the ballot paper was now accepted by a majority of voters a number of voters, often those who were authorised to vote because of their EU citizenship, often seemed bemused as to the size of the ballot – often A0 in size.
Publicity of Incumbent Councillors
Many councils, especially civic centres and Town Halls, actively advertise incumbent councillors. These are permanently displayed on large advertising boards at the entrance to major public buildings. In some cases polling stations are almost immediately approximate to these signs.
Whilst the siting of the councillors information may be reasonable, placing it within a polling station could be construed as being suggestive of bias.
Queueing appears to be a significant problem in The Netherlands, or at least in the large conurbations that were observed. These seems to be case even though polling stations are well staffed, often with four, or even, more members of staff on hand to administer the process.
Often one member of staff would check the ID and issue the ballot papers rather than spreading this work more evenly amongst the polling staff. By spreading this work more evenly queueing may be alleviated.
More polling booths would also help with this process though our observer team often saw booths empty when queues were forming because of the process of checking the polling card electronically and checking ID.
Ballot Papers in The Netherlands are the largest our observers have seen in Europe despite the electoral system being very similar to others used in other parts of Europe.
Norway uses a very similar open list voting system for its parliamentary elections, as can be seen in our report from September 2017. Norway uses a system by which the elector chooses the party ballot of their choice, in secret, and then casts a vote on that one ballot for the candidate of their choice. This is conducted behind a curtain to ensure secrecy. If authorities, parties and the public are exercised, as they seem to be, concerning the size of the ballot, this could be one solution, worthy of further research.