Report on first observation mission Dutch municipal elections by the Council of Europe
The Netherlands received an observation mission of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe at the municipal elections of 19 March 2014. This was the first time ever an election observation mission was deployed by the Congress to the Netherlands. The Congress was impressed by the transparency, openness and inclusiveness of the election processes: “The delegation was impressed by the quality of information available to voters, both online and in print, about how and where to vote; who was standing for election and the responsibilities of those concerned with electoral management.” However, the Congress is concerned about the absence of regulations concerning limitations of expenditure and the sponsoring of parties and campaign financing. It also encourages the Dutch authorities to improve the counting procedures of votes.
Congress observers noted that the vote count was totally transparent, the polling station staff knew their roles and anyone who wished to observe was able to do so. Nevertheless, ballot papers for the municipal elections can be large. This means that the count, which is done by hand, can be a cumbersome and lenghty process. Therefore, the Congress advices to improve the system of counting. They agreed with the Dutch Electoral Council (Kiesraad) that a secure system of electronic vote counting would speed up the counting process and make it less cumbersome. The Congress is following with interest the (ongoing) consultation in the country on the re-introduction of a secure system of electronic voting (ballot printers) and counting (scanners).
The Congress encourages the Dutch authorities to pursue the strategy to minimize the risk of fraud with regard to the long-established system of proxy voting in the Netherlands and to consider the testing of early voting by post or voting by internet as an alternative system. Nevertheless, vote-buying is not, so far, an issue in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has no legislation at present regarding party and campaign financing, nor in the setting of limits and conditions regarding donation. However, the Congress delegation was informed that this situation is being addressed and legislation was expected within the next two years. Furthermore, the Congress delegation, noting the high number of competing parties, invited the Netherlands to consider other regulations for the creation of parties and the introduction of thresholds.
The electoral mission took place from 16 to 20 March 2014 and comprised 13 members from 12 European states. On Election Day, 6 Congress teams were deployed around the country and observed the vote in more than 100 polling stations.