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