board elections

Elections in the Netherlands

Elections in the Netherlands are held for six territorial levels: the European Union (beyond the scope of this article), the state, the 12 Provinces, the (currently 27) water boards, the 443 municipalities and in some cities (such as Amsterdam) for neighbourhood councils (stadsdeelraden). Apart from elections, referendums are also held occasionally, a fairly recent phenomenon in Dutch politics. The most recent national election results and an overview of the resulting seat assignments and coalitions since World War II are shown at the bottom of this page.

At the national level, the legislative power is invested in the States-General (Staten-Generaal), which is bicameral. The Second Chamber (Tweede Kamer) has 150 members, elected for a four year term by proportional representation. Elections are also called after dissolution of the Second Chamber. All elections are direct, except for the First Chamber (Eerste Kamer), which has 75 members, elected for a four year term through the provincial councillors on the basis of the proportional representation at the provincial elections.

The Netherlands has a multi-party system, with numerous parties in which usually no one party ever gets an absolute majority of votes (except occasionally in very small municipalities, such as in Reiderland), so several parties must cooperate to form a coalition government. This usually includes the biggest party, with only three exceptions since World War II, in 1971, 1977 and 1982, when the PvdA was the biggest party but did not partake in the coalition.

Candidates at the elections of the Second Chamber are chosen from party lists resulting in proportional representation. The threshold is 1/150th of the total number of valid votes. The way representatives are elected is subject to debate however, as the Minister for Government Reform has put forth ideas for a new voting system based on an additional member system.

During the municipal elections of 2006, elections were electronic throughout the country. As a result, results were known before the end of the day, a mere two hours after the closing of the poll stations. For the national elections in November of that same year, however, several polling stations decided to return to paper and red pencil because of security issues with the voting machines.

The most recent elections were the "Provinciale Staten" (provincial) elections held on 7 March 2007 (see Dutch Eerste Kamer election, 2007).


The maximum parliamentary term is four years and elections are always held almost four years after the previous one, but usually in spring. This is to ensure that the most important day in the Dutch Parliament, Prinsjesdag, is not harmed by campaigning, and that the chance of the elections being harmed by averse weather is low. An exception is made if there is severe conflict between the Tweede Kamer and cabinet or after a cabinet crisis.

Elections usually take place on Wednesdays, but the government can decide to change this to a Tuesday, Thursday or Friday if there are good reasons to do so.


Every Dutch citizen who has reached the age of 18 is eligible to vote (actief kiesrecht) or to get elected as member of the Tweede Kamer (passief kiesrecht). Notable exception is the municipal election, where persons younger than 18 can be elected, but may not take seat until their 18th birthday. Also, for the municipal election one does not have to be Dutch; citizens of countries in the EU are also eligible to vote as well as citizens of other countries who have lived (legally) in the Netherlands for five years. Someone may be deprived of these rights if they are mentally incapable of making a reasoned choice or have lost their right to vote by court sentence. Two weeks before an election all voters receive a card, which is the evidence that one is a registered voter and must be handed over in order to vote. As of 1970, voting is not compulsory.

It is not necessary or even possible to register as a voter for elections in the Netherlands: everyone living in the Netherlands should be registered as a resident with the municipality they are living in (including their nationality and date of birth). The electoral register is derived from this data.


As described above the Second Chamber is elected using a system of open party lists, resulting in proportional representation.


For all elections except water board elections, votings are organized per municipality. At every municipality, there are multiple voting stations, usually in communal buildings, such as churches, schools, and recently, railway stations. There are two different systems: using the calling card (oproepkaart) or the voting pass (stempas). With the oproepkaart, voters can only vote at the closest voting station, using their card, or if lost, their identification. With the stempas, users can vote at any station in the municipality, but need the stempas. If it is lost, it replacement can be requested, but only until a few days before the elections. A stempas (of different type) can also be requested to vote in a different municipality.

When arriving at a voting station, voters hand in their card or pass to one of the three attendants of the voting station, which checks the card, invalidates it and points the voter to the booth.

Voting is done in one of two ways: using a red pencil or a voting machine. In 2005, almost no municipalities planned to vote with the pencil anymore. However, serious doubt was raised over the computers, both in being easy to manipulate, and being able to be electronically eavesdropped from a distance.. This led to a run on foreign voting computers and reintroduction of the red pencil in some municipalities in 2006, occasionally using converted medical waste disposal containers as voting boxes.

Dutch citizens living abroad are able to vote by registering in advance and then using a postal vote or, more recently, voting over the internet. The results are counted by the municipality of The Hague and included in its own results.


Polls close at 21.00 and votes are called immediately. For national elections, the first results usually come in five minutes after the polls are closed (from the municipalities with the least inhabitants, Schiermonnikoog and Renswoude). The final results are known around midnight and semi-officially announced the next morning, after which the 150 seats allocated. However, over the course of the days recounting might reveal some minor shifts in seating.

Seat assignment

The electorate in the Netherlands during the last elections in 2006 was 12,264,503, of whom 80% voted, resulting in 9,854,998 votes (of which 16,315 invalid votes). With 150 seats, that means a quota of 65,591, the so called Hare quota. Since the electoral threshold is equal to the quota, that is also the number of votes required to get one seat in the Tweede Kamer, basically meaning there is no threshold, except that a party has to meet the threshold to be eligible for residual seats.

However, the way residual seats are assigned, by using the D'Hondt method, a highest averages method, means that smaller parties are unlikely to get one, while larger parties have a bigger chance of getting one and may even get more than one. Firstly, numbers of seats are always rounded down, meaning there are always residual seats and parties that didn't reach the quota don't get any seats (they don't take part in the following calculation). Next, the number of votes is divided by the assigned seats plus one. The party with the highest resulting number then gets one extra seat. Next, the process is repeated, with the party that got the extra seat participating again, albeit with a number one higher because they got an extra seat (the calculation stays the same for the other parties, which got no extra seat). But later on in the process, that party may get another extra seat. And since there are many parties in the Tweede Kamer, this is not unlikely to happen.

For example, in 2003 (see table here), the three biggest parties each got two of the six residual seats, even the VVD (150*0.179=26.85, but they got 28 seats, representing 18.7% of the seats instead of 17.9%), whereas the Socialist Party got none (150*0.063 = 9.45, but they got only 9 seats, representing 6% of the seats instead of 6.3%).
When the largest party gets over 35% of the votes and is considerably bigger than the next biggest party, that party may even get as much as 3 or even 4 residual seats. This has, however, never happened. The percentage of votes for the biggest party is usually around 30% and rarely goes far beyond that. The largest result ever was at the 1989 elections, when CDA got 35.3% of the votes. Even then, however, CDA only got two residual seats because next biggest party (PvdA) had 31.9% of the votes. The biggest difference between the first and second party was at the 2002 elections, the most dramatic elections in Dutch history, when especially PvdA lost many votes to LPF, which became second biggest after CDA with 17.0% of the votes. CDA, however, had only 27.9% of the votes and therefore still only got 2 residual seats.

Parties may, however, form an alliance (lijstencombinatie), in which case they participate in the above calculations as one party and get a bigger chance of gaining residual seats (or getting one in the first place). The division of those seats between those parties is, however, done in a different way, by using the largest remainder method, which favours the smaller parties rather than the bigger ones if there is a considerable difference in size. But the overall advantage is greatest for small parties of comparable size.

Assigning people to seats

After seats are assigned to the parties, people have to be assigned to the seats. The Netherlands has 19 electoral districts, in each of them a party can use different lists. In theory, a party can place different candidates on each of the 19 different lists. However, it is usual that at least the candidate ranked first on the list is the same person throughout the country. It is even quite common that parties use the same list in every district, or vary only the last five candidates per district. Usually these five candidates are locally well known politicians, parties hope to attract extra votes with these candidates. However, because of their low position on the list, chances are low that these local candidates are elected.

The first step in the process of assigning people to the seats is calculating how many seats each of the different lists of a party gets, by adding the number of votes on each of the different lists together. If a party used the same list in more than one electoral district, these lists are seen as one list. Seat assignment to the different lists is done by using the largest remainder method.

The second step is calculating which candidate received on his or her own more votes than 25% of the electoral quota, by adding up all votes for a particular candidate on the different lists. These candidates are declared elected independent of the list order, and get one of the seats of the list where they received the most votes. If more candidates are elected on a list than the list received seats, the candidate with the lowest total number of votes is transferred to the list where he had his second best result.

As a third step, the remaining seats (if there are any) are assigned to the remaining candidates, based on their order on the list. When candidates are elected way on more than one list this way, the candidate gets the seat on the list where he or she received the most votes. This is continued until every seat is assigned. If one of these elected candidates later decides to leave parliament, then his seat is assigned to the next person on the list of the district he 'represents'.

An exception to the above exists in the form of lijstduwers ('list pushers'), famous people (former politicians, but also sports people) who are put on the candidate list but will not accept a seat when they get enough votes for one. During the municipal elections in 2006 professor Joop van Holsteyn criticised this practise, saying someone on a candidate list should also be a serious candidate. This view is shared by other politicologists, but less so by politicians, who say that lijstduwers are on the list not to get elected but to show that they support that party and that the fact that they are at the bottom of the list makes it obvious they are not intended to get a seat. Still, writer Ronald Giphart (1998) and skater Hilbert van der Duim (1994) got a city council seat, which Giphart refused to fill. Professor Rudy Andeweg says this is close to fraud because the law requires someone on the candidate list to declare in writing to be willing to fill a seat.

Latest national election

The Senate is elected indirectly, by the provincial councillors (who are themselves chosen in direct elections). It is composed as follows:

Latest municipal elections

The 2006 Dutch municipal election saw a huge success for two of the left wing parties, PvdA and SP.

Next elections

The next elections in the Netherlands are planned for (in chronological order):

  • European Parliament: 4 June 2009
  • Municipalities: 3 March 2010
  • Provinces: 2 March 2011
  • Second Chamber: 11 May 2011
  • First Chamber (indirect elections): 23 May 2011

Election results and cabinets since World War II

See also


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