Everything expats need to know about the Dutch water board elections
This month, people across the Netherlands will once again head to the polls, this time to vote in the provincial and water board elections. As an expat, you likely have many questions about the upcoming elections and the role you could play in voting.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Netherlands’ 2023 provincial and water board elections:
When are the elections?
While there are two separate elections, voters only need to head to the polls once in order to cast their votes. Polls will be open from 7.30am to 9pm on Wednesday, March 15.
Can expats and internationals in the Netherlands vote?
Kind of. While non-Dutch citizens are sadly not allowed to vote in the provincial elections, they are able to have their say in the water board elections.
In order to be eligible to vote in the upcoming water board elections, you must be over the age of 18, must be registered as a resident of a Dutch Water Authority (waterschap) territory, and have a Dutch residence permit, EU citizenship or Dutch citizenship.
How and where can you vote on March 15?
If you're eligible to vote this month, there are a couple of things you'll need to remember to take with you when you go to cast your ballot.
No later than 14 days before the election, you'll have received your voting pass(es) in the mail at your home address. When you vote, make sure to take this pass with you, as well as a legitimate form of ID (i.e. a passport, ID card or driving licence). You won't need to take a pen with you, as red pencils will be provided.
Armed with these items, you can head to one of the thousands of polling stations across the Netherlands on March 15.
When you received your voting pass(es) in the mail, they will have been accompanied by a list of the addresses of all the polling stations in your municipality. You can also find your nearest polling station on the website of your municipality, or at WaarismijnStemlokaal.nl.
When you vote, you’ll trade your voting pass(es) for what is generally quite a large sheet of paper, on which all the candidates for all the running parties are listed. When you reach the polling booth, all you need to do is fill in the circle next to the name of the person you’d like to vote for with the red pencil you’re provided with.
Voting by proxy
If you know you won’t be able to vote on polling day, then don’t worry, you can just authorise another person to cast your vote in your stead. Doing this is simple; all you need to do is fill in the form on the back of your voting pass(es), just make sure that whoever you ask is also eligible to vote and is registered in the same municipality as you.
What is the Netherlands voting for on March 15?
As mentioned above, the Netherlands will be holding two elections on March 15, 2023: the provincial elections and the water board elections.
Dutch provincial elections (Verkiezingen Provinciale Staten)
Every four years, the Netherlands holds an election wherein Dutch citizens can vote for the representatives on their Provincial Council. There are a total of 12 provinces in the Netherlands, meaning residents of each province will be voting in a different election.
The Provincial Councils play a key role in governing each province, acting as an administrative layer between the Dutch government and municipalities, managing aspects such as public transportation and roads, and approving budgets for each municipality within the province. Representatives on the Provincial Councils also elect the members of the Senate (Eerste Kamer).
The number of seats on each Provincial Council depends on the number of inhabitants of the province: the smallest provinces have just 39 seats, while the largest have up to 55.
Dutch water board elections (waterschappen)
While this may sound like a silly election, it's an extremely important one in the Netherlands, as water boards (waterschappen) are responsible for water management - managing the country’s polders, dikes, and other waterworks.
There are a total of 21 water boards in the Netherlands, and together they ensure that the country doesn’t flood and has an adequate supply of (clean) water. There also have the power to tax residents within their territory in order to cover the costs of the tasks they carry out.
Citizens and residents of the Netherlands vote for the representatives on their water board every four years. Water boards are governed by a general and an executive board. The general board consists of 18 to 30 members, many of whom are elected. There are also some secured seats, which are occupied by people representing farmers’ or environmental interests.
Which parties can you vote for in the Dutch water board elections?
Seeing as expats can’t vote in the provincial elections, let’s focus on who they can vote for in the water board elections.
Which parties you can vote for depends entirely on where you live, as each party can decide which elections it wants to take part in. Of course, many areas will see all of the major Dutch political parties fight for seats on the water boards, with some parties joining forces and running together under a different name:
- People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
- Party for Freedom (PVV)
- Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)
- Labour Party (PvdA)
- Christian Union (CU)
- Party for the Animals (PvdD)
- Water Natuurlijk (GroenLinks, Volt and D66)
- Reformed Political Party (SGP)
- Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB)
- Belang van Nederland (BVNL)
- General Water Board Party (AWP)
Ahead of the vote on March 18, you should receive a list of all the candidates running in your area in the mail.
If you didn’t receive a candidate list, don’t worry. On Waterschappen.nl, you can enter your postcode to find out which water board manages your area. From there, you can visit the website for your water board to see a list of all the parties and candidates who are running.
What are the key issues in these elections?
On the whole, the issues and topics that are expected to play a key role in March’s elections are:
- National and regional climate and nitrogen policies
- Public transportation
- Roads and motorways
How to figure out who to vote for
If you're not sure who you want to vote for on March 15, then there are a couple of things you can do to make the decision easier. For starters, after checking the website for your municipality and water board and finding out who's running in your area, you could visit the websites of all the parties to find and read their manifestos. However, this is pretty time-consuming and can be tricky as many will likely only be provided in Dutch.
Alternatively, platforms like StemWijzer and Kieskompas have quizzes which are tailored to your area, and help you figure out how you feel about major issues in your local area, and how your views align with those of the parties. The websites for some water boards might also provide links to similar platforms (some of which are also available in English!) to help make the decision-making process slightly easier.
Vote in the 2023 elections on March 15!
There you have it: everything you need to know about the upcoming elections in the Netherlands! Now’s your chance to let your voice be heard by casting your vote in the Dutch water board and provincial elections on March 15.
Thumb: Jan van der Wolf via Shutterstock.com.