I’ve always felt strongly about exercising my right to vote. I looked forward to my first opportunity to vote the year I turned 18, even though the outcome of that particular vote didn’t go my way. I didn’t let that turn me off. Every time I moved to a new state in the US (and I went through a few), I always registered to vote, and got to take part in some important elections on local and state levels, as well as national.
There was something particularly satisfying in going to my polling place and flipping levers or even using the touch screen (though the levers were more enjoyable), surrounded by other people who also felt strongly enough to vote. There’s a solidarity, even if you may well be voting at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Unfortunately, since moving, although I can still vote in the US, I’ve missed voting in person. Absentee ballots don’t have the same visceral thrill of the moment. But today, I finally got that thrill back. You see, in the Netherlands, it’s possible for non-Dutch citizens to vote in local elections. If you’re from an EU country, you can vote with no delay, but if you’re from a non-EU country, you must reside in the Netherlands for five years first. I was ridiculously envious of my Italian boyfriend when he got to vote in the last local election and I didn’t. However, this time around, it was my turn!
Today, local elections are being held across the country. Unfortunately, they’re expecting a rather low turnout, which I find so frustrating. Voting here is physically very easy. You don’t have to register to vote as you do in the US. Since you’re already registered with your local government, they automatically send you a stempas (voting pass) a month or so before the election. They also send out a sheet with all of the parties/candidates (as in the top photo). There are plenty of polling stations and you’re not limited to one specific location. You can vote wherever it’s more convenient (as long as it’s in your city, of course). There are voting stations set up at the train station, and numerous spots in schools, stores, and a variety of locations.
To vote, all you do is show your stempas and your ID and they give you your ballot to fill out, which looks like the one in the photo. There’s a red pencil in the voting booth and you fill in your choice and then drop it in the collection box. Easy peasy, at least once you get the ballot unfolded and spread out. It really is big! (As a side note, I took both my passport and my verblijfsvergunning (residence permit) with me as ID. It turns out I just needed the verblijfsvergunning, but the people working there commented on the attractiveness of the US passport, so that’s nice.)
In Utrecht, we have 17 parties from which to choose this time around, and within those parties, some have up to 50 candidates. The parties include the big national parties like D66, SP, VVD, and PvdA, but they also include smaller, local parties like OnsUtrecht. Doing the research on the parties and figuring out which individual to vote for is the only time-consuming part, but you’ve got plenty of time leading up to the election to narrow things down.
I’m curious to see the overall outcomes, not just for Utrecht, but for some of the other cities in the Randstad (the four major cities in the Netherlands). Although the elections are purely local, they can also be viewed sometimes as a commentary on national politics, either as a show of support or protest.
One last thing … the Dutch word stem means both vote and voice. So in Dutch, when you cast your vote, you really do make your voice heard.
And now my favorite photo from the last election. A little dog calmly waiting for his owner to return from voting.