The March 2022 deployment was the fourth deployment of Democracy Volunteers observers to The Netherlands. Our experience of observing in the country has led us to assess two aspects of the electoral process more closely during the 2022 deployment namely proxy voting and deciding the validity of a ballot paper at the counting stage.
Democracy Volunteers deployed 14 observers across The Netherlands in these elections. As a member of the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), Democracy Volunteers has an agreed code of conduct for observers. All observers are trained and briefed before deployment on polling day, and they sign the organisation’s code of conduct before observing. Our observer teams observe in teams of two, completing an online form once they have made their observations in each polling station.
The elections, based on the sample of 100 polling stations we observed, were very well run by elections staff. Our observation team of 14 observers, in the overwhelming majority of cases, were impressed by the conduct of staff throughout polling day.
Family Voting, where one voter oversees, directs, or colludes, with another in a polling booth, was identified by our observers at 14% (14 of 100) polling stations. Family Voting is the practice by which one member of a family influences or guides another on the way to cast their vote and is described by the OSCE/ODIHR as an ‘unacceptable practice’ . We also consider it an unacceptable aspect of elections as it invariably affects women, younger and older voters more than average. Whilst overall cases of family voting were relatively low, Democracy Volunteers would encourage a proactive approach by staff to prevent such occurrences taking place which did occur in some cases, though not always. Indeed, on some occasions, staff did intercede to prevent it. Generally, our observers were greeted warmly by elections staff wherever they visited polling stations and counting. The team also held constructive meetings with interlocutors, such as election administrators, in the days preceding polling day. In total, the observation team attended 100 polling stations across 14 municipalities.
There are two areas of concern that the observer team would highlight.
- Proxy voting is widespread and legal in The Netherlands, with many voters signing their vote, on polling day, to another member of their family to cast on their behalf. This can constitute a large percentage of the electorate not casting their own vote. Our observations suggest that most of this proxy voting is conducted by men, (61%) which might suggest some voters give their proxy under some degree of duress – we would encourage the Dutch government to actively consider updating the rules on proxy voting to encourage more voters to attend polling stations to limit the potentially negative impact this might have.
- The methodology of the adjudication of completed ballots, in polling station counts, needs greater transparency as some votes may be excluded in some jurisdictions that may not in others, this could lead to more/less officious decisions having an impact on the result of the election.
All 14 observers deployed to observe the Dutch municipal elections did so at their own cost or were supported from the general funds of the organisation. No finance was sought, or received, from any party or organisation, whether internal or external to The Netherlands, for the observation or this final report. Our observations are wholly independent of any institution.
For more information and to hear John Ault and Harry Busz talk about the observation you can listen to The Election Observer Podcast.
The report was written by John Ault, Harry Busz and Jude Wilson.