The Dutch government has said it will adjust the rules for accepting certain mail-in ballots for general elections.
This week’s voting takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic and steps have been taken to protect voters from the infection.
Polling stations have been open for three days to allow for social distancing at the polls, while more citizens have been asked to vote by mail than ever before.
Specifically, citizens aged 70 and over were asked to vote by mail, many of them for the first time.
When the first ballots were sent by mail, the Dutch authorities received reports that voters by mail had been sending the wrong envelopes.
“The municipalities have informed me that during the pre-opening of the voting by mail tables, they have discovered that some of the return envelopes do not contain a voting pass,” Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in a letter to parliament.
“Vote-by-mail offices suspect that the voter has put the ballot pass in a [inner] envelope along with your actual vote. “
These erroneous vote-by-mail ballots were initially set aside, but on Tuesday, the Dutch government said in a statement that it would modify the rules to accept them.
“Following problems with the counting of votes by mail, the Ministry decided to change the procedure for counting votes,” the Dutch Electoral Council (Kiesraad) told Euronews.
The State Council has also acknowledged that authorities had not provided sufficient instruction to new postal voters on how to use this method.
“Due to the unpredictability of the course of the virus … there was insufficient opportunity to normally and carefully test whether the procedures involved in this voting method were clear enough for this group of voters,” the Council said in a statement.
Counting votes ‘a balancing act’
The decision to count these incorrectly mailed ballots raises questions about the secrecy of the election.
But advisers to the Dutch State Council have said that discarding the votes entirely would be a greater risk to the fairness of the elections.
“The invalidation of a considerable number of ballots – which were cast in good faith by these voters with the best of intentions – constitutes a greater violation of the legitimacy of this election than the lack of strict compliance [the rules]. “
However, the Council noted that the same procedure should be used for all postal ballots that have been received, including those that have already been canceled.
“The Council also stresses that it is important that this approach has broad political support.”
Kajsa Ollongren has declared that he had communicated the new council to the municipalities and municipalities.
Meanwhile, the Kiesraad has also pointed out that the ballot papers sent by mail from voters abroad did not have to be placed in a separate envelope for previous elections.
“Until 2001, the postal ballots of voters outside the Netherlands did not have to be placed in a separate envelope, but could be freely placed in the return envelope together with the voting pass,” they said on their council.
But the Kiesraad has reiterated that opening these envelopes “should not be done lightly.”
“Putting the vote by mail aside would also hurt the voter by mail, then the vote would be lost,” they advised.
“Opening the ballot envelope to check if it contains all the ballots is a balancing act between these two important core values of the electoral process: the accessibility of the vote and the secrecy of the voter’s vote.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism