Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and a scandal that forced the entire government to resign in January, voters have been undeterred in casting ballots for the Netherlands’ national election.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Some 13 million Dutch citizens are eligible to head to the polls on Wednesday to vote in national parliamentary races amid a worsening Covid-19 crisis.
“It hasn’t been a very interesting election,” said Astrid de Reuver, who was waiting in line to vote outside of a party tent in the middle of a children’s playground in Delft, one of many pop-up polling places.
While officially the election is Wednesday, polls opened two days early in the Netherlands to ensure social distancing would be possible across the country’s 9,200 polling stations, which include the Van Gogh museum, a former prison and an Amsterdam location that allows voting by bike.
The center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, is expected to get around 35 seats in the country’s 150-seat parliament, with around 20% of the vote. This will likely leave the interim prime minister, Mark Rutte, with another four-year term.
Rutte’s coalition government was forced to step down in January following a scandal over the mismanagement of child care subsidies, but neither that nor the country’s handling of the coronavirus crisis seems to have deterred voters from supporting him.
Some 16,000 Dutch people have died from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, and the Netherlands was the last country in Europe to start vaccinating. Bars and restaurants have been closed since before Christmas and the country is under a nightly curfew in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Cases are again on the rise, prompting fears of another wave of infection.
The far-right, anti-immigration party led by Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom, or PVV, is neck-in-neck with the center-left D66 party for the second-largest share of seats, with both polling at around 19 parliamentary seats, or 12% of the vote.
Votes will start being tallied when polls close at 9 p.m. local time, and results are expected early Thursday morning.
In total, 37 parties have put forth candidates in the election, with around 16 expected to get at least one seat. With so many parties, ballots in the Netherlands are comically large, nearly 5 feet long. Social distancing measures require people to stay about 5 feet apart, so many have found the ballot to be a useful measuring device.
Currently, there are 15 parties in parliament. The governing coalition made up of the VVD, D66 and two right-leaning Christian parties, the CDA and CU, held its majority by a single seat, and forming it took a record 209 days after the last national election in 2017. The formation process is expected to be even more difficult this time.
D66’s party leader, Sigrid Kaag, was the first party leader to cast her vote Wednesday morning. On the morning TV program “Goedemorgen Nederland” – “Good Morning the Netherlands” – she said that she would vote for someone new on the candidate list and for a woman. The Vote for a Woman campaign has been encouraging voters to choose a female candidate in the election.
The country’s health minister, Hugo de Jonge, had a challenging time at the polls on Wednesday morning. He was initially turned away from voting for not having proper identification. He told reporters that his wife had set out an out-of-date passport for him the night before. He was eventually able to vote but afterward received a notification from the country’s coronavirus app that he had been in contact with someone who had tested positive and is now in quarantine.
Fortunately, voting for most Dutch citizens was less eventful. The biggest question on voters’ minds seemed to be: can I keep the red pencil? By law, voters must mark their ballots with a red mark, to offer the biggest contrast on a white ballot with black text.
Normally the pencils are chained to the voting booth, but because of Covid-19 safety measures most municipalities simply let voters take the pencils home this year.
“No, I wasn’t allowed to keep it,” said Peter Visser, who voted in Leiden on Wednesday.
Twitter users who were allowed to keep their pencils posted photos of them online, the style of which differs across voting locations.
Voters over 70 were allowed to vote by mail, a Dutch first. Confusion ensued over how to properly repackage a completed ballot and some 8% of postal ballots would have been tossed out had Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren not changed the regulations on Tuesday for what constituted a valid ballot.
“Post voting is new,” she told Dutch national newspaper AD. “There were clear instructions, with text and picture. But I can well imagine that people, without looking at those instructions, have been careless.”