As from 1 July 2015, persons eligible to cast a vote may request for a referendum to be held on newly adopted Acts and Treaties. This referendum allows voters to vote in favour of or against an Act or Treaty. Its results are not binding, however. An advisory referendum may relate to any Act that has been adopted and ratified, but has not yet entered into force. All Acts qualify for a referendum, barring a few exceptions. For instance, no referendum may be held on Acts pertaining to the Constitution, the budget or the Royal House. A referendum may also be held on a Treaty.
Image: ©Electoral Council / Phil Nijhuis
Eligibility to vote
Anyone eligible to cast a vote in the elections to the House of Representatives is eligible to cast a vote in a referendum. To be eligible to cast a vote in an advisory referendum, the voter must possess Dutch nationality, be 18 years of age or over and not be debarred from voting.
Requirements for a referendum
An advisory referendum will be set up if a sufficient number of persons eligible to vote submit a valid request. Requests are to be submitted in two separate stages: the preliminary request stage and the final request stage. In the preliminary stage, at least 10,000 persons eligible to vote need to submit a request. Should this target number be reached, at least 300,000 valid requests need to be submitted in the subsequent final stage. An advisory referendum will only be set up if this number is reached.
For the results to be valid, a voter turnout of at least 30 percent of the total number of persons eligible to vote is required. Should this turnout threshold be reached and should a majority of voters reject the Act, two possibilities are open to the government. One possibility is to act in accordance with the results and propose a bill to repeal the Act. The other option is to propose a bill to have the Act nevertheless enter into force: For the results of an advisory referendum are not binding.
Persons eligible to cast a vote have four weeks to submit requests for a referendum to be held, starting from the date the decision whether an Act or Treaty qualifies for a referendum is published in the Government Gazette. Preliminary request forms are available on www.referendumovereenwet.nl. Next, the central electoral committee within a week decides whether the request to hold a referendum is to be granted. As stated in the above, this requires the submission of at least 10,000 valid requests. If fewer than 10,000 valid requests were submitted, the Act enters into force as usual.
The Electoral Council publishes the results of the preliminary request stage in the Government Gazette. Persons eligible to cast a vote have six weeks from the date of publication to submit a final request for a referendum to be held. For this happen, 300,000 requests need to be submitted. Final request forms are available on www.referendumovereenwet.nl.
A different procedure applies to inhabitants of the isles of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba. They are to submit preliminary and final requests for a referendum to the lieutenant governor.
Decision on holding a referendum
Within two weeks of the deadline for submissions of final requests, the central electoral committee determines whether at least 300,000 valid final request were submitted. If so, an advisory referendum will be set up. If fewer than 300,000 declarations of support were submitted, the Act enters into force as usual. The central electoral committee announces its decision in a public session on the 2nd day following the lapse of the two-week term.
Each person eligible to cast a vote may only submit one preliminary and one final request for a referendum to be held for each Act/Treaty. Once submitted, a request may not be withdrawn.
A request is invalid if it:
1. was not received within the proper term (i.e., submitted too early or too late)
2. was not submitted using the proper form
3. has not been completed in full or contains incorrect information
4. was not submitted by a person eligible to cast a vote
5. was submitted by a person who submitted more than one request
The central electoral committee (the Electoral Council) determines the validity of submitted requests by way of a sample check.
Within a week of announcing the decision that a referendum will be held, the Referendum Commission will determine the day of the vote. The day of the referendum will be a Wednesday and will fall in the period between 85 days and six months following the date of the decision by the Commission. If another election (or referendum) is held within that period, the referendum will be held on the same day. No referendums will be held in July or August.
Organization of the election
Municipalities are responsible for the organization of a referendum (vote). So they are responsible for matters like identifying the polling stations, furnishing them and appointing polling station officials.
In addition to deciding on the day of the referendum, the Referendum Commission provides information on the Act concerned once the referendum is called. The Commission also determines how the Act will be referred to on the ballot paper. In addition, the Commission grants subsidies for purposes of organizing the societal debate on the Act.
The Electoral Council acts as central electoral committee for referendums and determines the election results. As soon as possible following the referendum, the Council announces the results in public session.