Tuesday 25 November 2008

Stembijlet - Voting Form

A couple of weeks ago we received voting forms in the post for the waterschapverkiezingen 2008 (district water board elections 2008).

To some people this may sound like an odd thing to have an election for, but it's quite important here.

The water board runs a lot of things in the countryside. There are thousands of kilometres of dykes here, rural cycle paths also are largely run by the water board, and of course much of the natural landscape that we enjoy cycling through belongs to them. They are responsible for control of water level in the countryside, not water supply to homes. Wikipedia has more about this. The well run water boards are the reason why the low-lying Netherlands doesn't flood as often as other countries.

This cycle-path, like many thousands
of km of cycle-path and road in this
country, belongs to the water board.
The voting process is quite different to what we're used to. The election is for individuals and is a form of proportional representative, so every vote counts. This is markedly different to what we were used to in the UK. Never has a single vote of mine helped anyone get into power because my votes were swamped due to the effect of the "first past the post" electoral system. This is probably the first time in my life that my vote has had any significance.

This is a better form of democracy. A more democratic form of democracy.

The last date to vote was today, but my form went back into the post very soon after it arrived.


Kevin Love said...

In the last election, Ontario held a referendum on changing from First Past the Post (FPTP) to a form of Proportional Representation (PR). The proposal was voted down.

My impression (I may be wrong!) is that Holland does not have significant regional cultural differences, so PR makes sense.

Canada has significant regional cultural differences, of which Quebec is only the most obvious. Under FPTP, small regional parties wind up with more representation in parliament than with PR.

For example, the Bloc Quebecois does much better with FPTP than PR.

On the other hand, parties with a little support everywhere, such as the Green Party, do better with PR.

No system is perfect, but I suspect that PR works better in Holland because of Dutch cultural homogeneity. And FPTP works better in Canada because of regional diversity.

Anneke said...

Well, the Netherlands might be more homogeneous than Canada, but is has many variation on a small scale. For example, I live in a region that is very small, but has a distinct dialect, and even within the area, I can often hear from what town someone is, by the way they speak. The distance between the towns can be as small as 3 miles.

David Hembrow said...

We've found the Netherlands to be much more varied than we initially expected. As Anneke points out, accents seem to be quite incredibly localized. There is definitely a difference between Assen, where we live, and Groningen 30 km to the North (or so my children tell me. I'm hopeless at spotting it as my Dutch is still terrible).

For me, PR is important because I can still remember how the initial interest in voting when I was 18 turned into utter disillusionment when after umpteen elections not one person I had given my vote to ever got the slightest bit of power.

I gave up voting in the UK. Only the majority voice is heard there, and that's influenced in large part by the editors of tabloid newspapers.

It feels like this country respects my views more than the one I was born in.

That the Greens have had a little power here for a long time, thanks to PR, is no doubt connected with why cycling provision here is the best in the world and why the rate of recycling is the highest in the world.