Upcoming elections could be delayed; Social distancing, vote by mail options considered

Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs votes in the Amsterdam municipal election at Amsterdam Centraal, 21 March 2018
Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs votes in the Amsterdam municipal election at Amsterdam Centraal, 21 March 2018Photo: Ministry of Home Affairs / @MinBZK / Twitter

There is a chance that upcoming elections in the Netherlands may have to be delayed due to the measures in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations said in a letter to parliament on Friday. She is currently looking into options to avoid this, such as whether voting stations can reasonably be organized so that everyone can keep 1.5 meters apart. Voting by mail is also being considered, she said. 

The Netherlands has several elections planned for the coming months. The biggest one is the parliamentary election on 17 March 2021. The election of the Island Council of Sint Eustatius is also on the agenda, as are reclassification elections for the merger of the municipalities of Appingedam, Delfzijl and Loppersum and the spilt of the municipality of Haaren. 

The months ahead hold a lot of uncertainty regarding the coronavirus and the measures against its spread. The government already started relaxing these measure, but if there is another outbreak, stricter measures may again be implemented. One thing is already clear, Ollongren said. "That the basic rule that we have to keep 1.5 meters apart will apply for a longer period of time. That's why we have to take into account that polling stations have to be arranged differently."

The Minister therefore asked municipalities and public bodies to look into whether polling stations can be arranged in a way that social distancing is maintained when voters cast their vote and when the ballots are counted. After this information is in, the possible consequences will be mapped out.

In case it turns out that voting in polling stations is impossible, Minister Ollongren is looking into voting by mail. The process with which Dutch citizens abroad currently cast their vote will be used as the basis of this, she said. 

When asked about whether other options like voting online or early voting were also being considered, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs told NL Times that not at this stage. "For now we are looking at how we can do the voting in connection with the rules, but not yet whether the voting system will be changed," Pauline van Voorst from the Ministry said.