Busy Wednesday ahead as two elections are due to take place in the Netherlands

Wednesday, the 20th March will be a busy election day in the Netherlands as two types of votes are due to take place. The first one, the Provincial elections, open only for Dutch citizens, will appoint members of the provincial parliaments of all 12 Dutch provinces. The second, open to all EU citizens living here, and all non-EU citizens with 5 years of uninterrupted residency is pretty unique for the Netherlands – it will elect members of the Water Management Board, to take care of flood prevention and water quality.

Provincial elections in the Netherlands

The administrative structure of the Netherlands divides the country into provinces, each with their own main city and own government body, a total of 12 – Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Utrecht, Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Zeeland, Noord-Brabant, Limburg. This provincial structure represents a middle layer between the smaller division into municipalities and the national government.

Source: Mtcv op de Nederlandstalige Wikipedia

Every 4 years, Provincial elections take place and as a result, members of the provincial parliament are elected. The body, called States-Provincial (Provinciale Staten), once composed, will then elect, among its members, the Provincial-Executive (Gedeputeerde Staten) to perform most of the executive tasks.

Another important figure in the composition of the Provincial Parliament is the King’s Commissioner (Commissaris van de Koning), appointed by the Crown who presides over the States-Provincial as well as over the Provincial Executive. This person’s mandate is longer – 6 years and is due to reappointment for another term.

The Provinciehuis of Utrecht Source: Provincie Utrecht team media/wikipedia/cc

The number of seats per province in the Provincial Parliament is determined by the number of inhabitants living in a given province – the more residents, the more seats. Flevoland and Zeeland have the smallest number of seats – 39, while Gelderland, Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Noord-Brabant each have 55 seats.

Other than ensuring the management of each province, the Provincial parliament has one more important task – they appoint the members of the First Chamber of the Dutch parliament. The Dutch parliament (also called ‘Staten Generaal’) is divided into two chambers – Eerste Kamer and Tweede Kamer. The members of the Tweede Kamer, also called the House of Representatives, are elected directly through national elections, and represent the people, while the Eerste Kamer, composed by 75 members, represent the 12 Dutch provinces, and are, therefore appointed by the Provincial Parliaments. Two months after a Provincial parliament is appointed, each of them is presented by political parties with lists of candidates for the Eerste Kamer, to vote on, preferentially.

The final results of these votes are again determined by the number of inhabitants per province, with a so-called weighted vote. In plain words, this means that the higher the number of inhabitants in a province, the more influence a provincial vote has, and this is taken pretty literary – one vote from Zuid-Holland is counted times 7, while one vote from Drenthe is counted times 1.

Provincial elections are organized as all other elections – they take place on a working weekday, in a voting station (stembureau, stemlokaal), open from 7:30 to 21:00, and located in various easy-to-access public places such as schools, municipal centers, libraries, bars, windmills, and even someone’s home; voters receive a voting pass, and if unable to vote in person, can vote by proxy, to authorize someone else to cast their vote. Provincial elections also always take place on the same day as the Water Management Board elections.

The Water Management Board elections

The good news is that these elections are open to all foreigners living in the Netherlands (all EU nationals with active registration, and all non-EU nationals with 5 years of uninterrupted residency). The great news is that these elections are so uniquely Dutch that it will very possibly be a very memorable vote for many to elect this type of governing body.

The Water Management Board is the first form of government that was elected directly by the people in the Netherlands. Which makes total sense given what important role water has in the life of this country.

1654 painting by Cesar van Everdingen and Pieter Post, depicting William II of Holland granting privileges in 1255 to the Spaarndam dijkgraaf and hoogheemraden, the organization that would evolve into the Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland Source: Wikipedia

The work of the Water Management Board is the prevention of flooding, sufficient volume of groundwater and surface water, and to keep the water quality up to standards. Important stuff for a country which is struggling against the water since god knows when.

In structure, the Board is divided into two types of seats – appointed and elected. The appointed seats are reserved for business organizations, farmers’ organizations, environmental organizations. The second type is reserved for voted representatives from parties or various political formations. Political parties can choose to run individually, and tie their water policies with the vote directly, or engage with other parties with similar stand on water management issues and form a unity specifically designed to represent their interests in the Water Management Board elections.

The number of water management boards a certain region within the Netherlands has, is related to the state of water-shed issues present – a region with rivers abounding in water and/or with access to the North Sea will have different challenges than a region with lakes mostly. In other words, being yet another form of government, the water management board divides the country into its own administrative divisions, different than municipalities or provinces, and based on their primary focus, the water. It also has its own form of taxation – the Waterschapsbelasting which every household in the Netherlands, regardless of their nationality, receives and pays to contribute to regional water system management, such as maintenance of dykes and purification levy, and this is additional to the water consumption sums paid.

An overview map of the Dutch Polder Boards as per 2019, compiled by Jan-Willem van Aalst using open geodata. Source: Wikipedia

Completing the overall tasks of water management in the Netherlands is vested with Rijkswaterstaat (the executive branch of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management) and those (partially) elected district water boards.

Again, these elections are organized just like all others – on a working weekday, in a local voting station, from 7:30 to 21:00, and located in various easy-to-access public places. Voters can only vote for boards in their residential area, they receive a voting pass, and if unable to vote in person, can vote by proxy, to authorize someone else to cast their vote.

Choosing who to vote on elections for Water Management Board can be tricky, given such vote is a totally new concept for many. To help you decide, many water boards develop questionnaires which can orientate you. One such can be found here, developed by Delfland, one of the water authorities, covering the regions between the North Sea, the Nieuwe Waterweg and the Berkel en Rodenrijs line, Zoetermeer and Wassenaar.

Check the website of your municipality or province for similar questionnaires.

Will you be voting? Let us know in the comments!

Paola Ivanova Op den Kamp
Paola Ivanova Op den Kamp
Paola was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and is experiencing the Dutch life for a couple of years already, With a background in marketing, linguistics, and media, she is a devoted music lover, good singer, active volunteer and a traveler, who likes to discover new places in full - by residing for some time.

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