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Why is there no longer compulsory voting in the Netherlands?

In 1970, compulsory voting was abolished in the Netherlands. It wasn’t functioning at the time, and it was abolished for practical and ideological reasons, says Wim Voermans, Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law, on a BNNVARA podcast.

From 1917, for a period of 53 years, the Netherlands had a system of compulsory voting – also known as compulsory attendance. A large majority in the Lower House voted to abolish it in 1970. The main reason was that compulsory voting detracts from faith in democracy. Practical issues also proved a problem, says Voermans. 'It is a free choice to vote or not. You don't want to be forced by the state.'

The abolition of compulsory voting had a major impact on turnout. Not so much for the Lower House elections (80% turnout), but for the Provincial and Municipal Council elections, with a 10-20% decrease and even 40% for the European Parliament elections, Voermans explains.

Other countries, including Belgium, still have compulsory voting. But the system does not work there either and turnout is actually not much higher than in the Netherlands. Not voting in Belgium results in a fine, but actual prosecution is never carried out. According to Voermans, it merely 'results in a lot of aggravation for a few tenners.'

Find out more?


Listen to the whole BNNVARA podcast

Photo: Arnaud Jaegers via Unsplash

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