Exercising your democratic rights in the Netherlands

Exercising your democratic rights in the Netherlands

“Why do I have to identify myself with my credentials?” A lady of respectable age asks me, as she hands me her passport. “Well, I do not know you and the only way to determine who you say you are, is with the help of your official papers,” I explain as I hand over the passport, and give her a ballot paper. Every election finds me at the polling station checking credentials, handing out ballot papers and making sure that the voting takes place in a peaceful and orderly manner and, of course, the counting thereafter.

Why is this interesting for expats?

Well, the council election in the Netherlands is just around the corner, March 14, 15 and 16, to be precise.

Do you know that for the council election you, non-EU and EU expatriate, can also cast your vote? Of course, there are criteria that ensure your eligibility for voting though:

  • You are 18+ years. 
  • You have lived in the Netherlands for a minimum of five consecutive years.
  • You are not in any way exempted from your voting rights (kiesrecht) in the Netherlands (this applies to people with a serious criminal record or who are mentally incapable).
  • You are registered in the municipality that you are living in.
  • You receive a voting pass (stempas) from your municipality.

Why partake in voting?

"Stem" (vote) as the Dutch call it, also means voice. To be able to voice one’s opinion is part of the democracy that is highly valued in the Netherlands. If you have been living for five or more years in this country, you are also contributing towards the social economy of the municipality which makes you an integral part of the community in your municipality. Every reason to make sure that your "stem" is heard!

Voting by proxy

If you are interested in casting your vote but cannot make it to the ballot station for whatever reason, you can authorise someone else to cast the vote for you (voting by proxy). Here is what you need to know about voting by proxy:

  • You will need to use the back side of your voting pass. There is a section provided that enables you to authorise another person.
  • It is important that you and the authorised person both sign this section.
  • It is crucial that the authorised person and you live in the same municipality.
  • Provide the authorised person with a copy of your ID or passport. Printed or photo via the telephone will also suffice.
  • The authorised person has to bring the original copy of their own ID and they have to cast their own vote together with the proxy vote simultaneously.

Casting your vote

Most municipalities have polling stations in public places like the train and bus stations, supermarkets or other public buildings. The polling station that is closest to your address of residence will be mentioned on your voting pass. However, you can choose to cast your vote in any other polling station within your municipality.

All polling stations are open from 7:30am till 9:00pm, which means you have the whole day to cast your vote.

At the polling station

Once your credentials are handed over and checked, you will be provided with a ballot paper. In the voting booth, you will see a red coloured pencil which you can use to colour the circle next to the name of the candidate you want to vote for. Colour the whole circle red.

What if you make a mistake? 

It is possible that people colour the circle of the wrong candidate. In this case, you can exchange the ballot paper for a new one from a polling station member. However, you will receive only one chance to rectify your mistake.

Blank invalid vote

If you want to exercise your right to vote but you do not want to vote for any of the candidates, you can leave the circles uncoloured or blank. This is a blank vote. If instead of colouring a circle, you write something else or mark two candidates, you vote will be considered invalid and it will not be counted.


You are active on social media and would love to make a selfie in the voting booth, is this allowed? The answer is yes, as long as you are the only one in the picture, you do not disturbed other people or try to influence other people's votes.


Usually a voting day is restricted to just one day. To minimise the spread of COVID-19, the election day has been spread over three days (March 14, 15 and 16), so people can chose which day they want to visit the polling station. Wearing a mask is no longer mandatory, but, of course, if you prefer to, you still can. 

Taking it for granted

Do not take your right to vote for granted. It would be a pity if you realise the value of this right only after you have lost it.

So, if you have not cast a vote in the Netherlands before, while you are eligible in every way, I would like to invite and encourage you to take up this right of yours and exercise it and let your voice be heard!

Kirtika van Hunen


Kirtika van Hunen

Kirtika van Hunen is a certified intercultural trainer, writer, coach and founder of Between2Cultures Through her trainings; 'Leading Across Cultures', 'Working effectively with the Dutch', 'Intercultural Awareness and Communication',...

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