Electronic voting has a long history in the Netherlands. In the 1960s, the Secretary of the Electoral Council was fascinated by the mechanical voting machines used in the United States, and convinced the Ministry of Interior (MoI) to allow for their use. On November 25, 1965, a new version of the Electoral Law was implemented that regulated the use of voting machines by the local authority in pre-assigned polling stations.
The MoI and Kingdom Relations (MOIKR)48 is responsible for the overall framework of elections in the Netherlands, including developing the legislation. At the same time, the Netherlands has a decentralized system and the municipalities (currently over 400) have the responsibility for conduct of elections. Accordingly, while the ministry was responsible for ensuring proper regulation of voting machines, it was at the municipal level that decisions were made on adopting new technology. The Electoral Council also serves as an advisory body to the ministry on election-related issues and conducts vote tabulation in national elections.
Thirteen local authorities introduced American mechanical voting machines for provincial elections in March 1966. This did not go well, as there were an abnormal number of blank votes due to the fact that machines were introduced hastily and voters were not made aware of the change.
Subsequently, the Dutch decided to design their own voting machines, and the Minister of Interior requested an Order in Council on rules for the approval of voting machines in 1968. It asked the Dutch Organization for Applied Scientific Research (Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek, TNO) together with Samson Kantoor Efficiency to develop a design for an electronic voting machine. The Dutch Apparatus Factory (Nederlandse Apparaten Fabriek NV, NEDAP) was asked to build a machine based on this design. A few years later, NEDAP began not only producing the voting machines, but also designing and developing them. By the end of the 1980s, 1,200 voting machines were in use in 60 local authorities.
This initial development of the machines set a precedent; TNO and NEDAP were in control of the situation regarding voting machines and made most decisions regarding their development. Neither the Electoral Council nor the MoI set any requirements for them.
In the late 1980s, the first electronic voting machines appeared, and by the mid-1990s their use in Dutch elections was widespread. The machines appealed to local authorities, as they were seen to reduce mistakes in the process, decreased the number of staff needed for the vote count and made the release of results much quicker. There was no public or political debate regarding the early introduction of mechanical or electronic voting machines, and they appeared to be popular with voters. The only concern raised was whether elderly voters might be discouraged from voting as a result of the adoption of technology.
48 The name of the ministry used to be “Interior” only; in 1998 “Kingdom Relations” was added.
Netherlands: Legal Framework