Voting without borders

The challenge: Develop a digital and secure way to send voting documents making sure that citizens living abroad will receive their voting documents at all times.

Description of the problem

Imagine meeting the love of your life, who incidentally lives in Brazil. You decide to move and settle in Brazil, without giving up your Dutch nationality. Due to your interest in Dutch politics and your connection to the country, you would still like to participate in the Dutch national elections. We make it possible!

Voting papers are sent by post to the home addresses of voters abroad. However, the documents don’t always arrive (on time) and we highly depend on foreign postal services, which are out of our control. The Dutch government would like to make voting abroad possible for every foreign citizen with a Dutch nationality, so they can easily and safely cast their votes. The municipality of The Hague makes it possible, for Dutch people living abroad to vote for national elections.

We are looking for a solution to ensure that voters abroad receive their voting documents safely and on time (e.g. by digitalizing the voting documents). We hope to start the pilot/trial with help of the startup in the autumn of 2018. If so, we hope the process will be fully implemented in the spring of 2019, before the European Parliament elections. There is a budget for realizing this process with which we can improve our services for our voters. We are especially looking for possible cost savings for the municipality in the long run.

What are we looking for?

  • We have to comply with the laws and regulations of the Elections Act. This states, among other things, that voting must be done by post. We have been discussing this with the legislator to change this. The ministry is willing to digitalize parts, provided this information is secure. For now, however, digitalizing the entire process is not yet an option. As such, we are looking for a solution for the digitalization of sending voting documents.
  • Polling stations (embassies) abroad are not fixed. The amount of voting locations fluctuates per election and it may even be the case that the Ministry refrains from setting up polling stations abroad. As a result, all of the votes worldwide might have to be sent back by post to The Hague.

What are we not looking for?

  • We are not looking for a complete digitalization of the process. In the Elections Act, everything has to be done by post. The Ministry is open to change, but is reluctant because of possible fraud and hacking.
  • We are not looking for a track & trace solution. These possibilities have been discussed with PostNL and are not possible. To realize this it would take too much time that is not available.
  • We are not looking for a solution with Digi-D. Unfortunately, not everyone abroad has a Digi-D. Additionally, we do not want to make it more complicated by asking voters to organize this. The process must be simple, clear and safe.

Background information

Who are we?

The municipality of The Hague takes care of people living abroad who still have a Dutch nationality and would like to vote. Voters living outside the Netherlands can take part in the parliamentary elections, European parliamentary elections and advisory referendum. We are the executive organ for Electoral Offices outside the Netherlands (KBN) on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (BUZA). The KBN department is part of the Elections Unit, which is permanently employed at the municipality of The Hague. We hope to have good cooperation and enough time and space to discuss and make the process possible.

What does the process look like?

People can register permanently at the KBN department and will automatically receive the voting documents by post at the start of an election. At KBN we work within the framework of the Elections Act, which means that we have to comply with the laws and regulations as described in the Elections Act. The Elections Act stipulates, among other things, that voting must be done by post. In addition, at the start of an election we have to deal with different deadlines, which limits the time for sending voting documents to 5-6 weeks.

Voters receive a voting pass, ballot paper with an empty envelope, and information leaflet and an orange return envelope. We send these voting papers by ‘priority mail’ to the respective addresses of the voters. After the voter has filled in his voting papers, he or she returns the voting papers in the orange return envelope to the nearest polling station. Currently, a number of Dutch embassies operate abroad as a polling station during an election. For example, voters in Australia can send the voting documents to the embassy in Canberra, instead of returning it to The Hague. The number of briefing agencies abroad differs per election and is partly determined by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (BUZA). Currently, the ballot paper can be sent by e-mail, but not the voting pass, because it contains confidential features. The voting pass contains the voters’ personal details, hologram foil and a unique barcode.

Each election involves approximately 60,000 to 80,000 voters abroad, of which about 80% indicate that they would like to receive their voting documents digitally.

Fortunately, only a relatively small number of voters abroad do not receive their voting documents on time. However, we want to guarantee that every voter receives voting documents on time. It must always be possible to vote, regardless of where you live in the world.