A little while ago, I wrote my first blog on why I was very unhappy with the massive wave of pictures taken by voters of their own ballot paper together with their face in the voting booth –  called “stemfie” in NL. This later actually made it into the court of law.

I was upset, because in my mind the “stemfie” violates one of the most fundamental principles of our democracies: the secret vote. With Germany’s history in the back of my mind – and the lessons learned from it – I care deeply about democracy. Like everywhere in life, some basic principles have fundamental effects on where a society will go and they should not be up for fun and jokes. It is therefore no surprise that the “stemfie” is explicitly illegal in other countries.

Indeed, recently a foundation for the protection of civil rights and Lucas Kruijswijk went to court to prevent this from happening again. I thought their lawyer, Douwe Linders, had written a piece that is worthwhile reading. (And that is not just, because they actually used my blog as inspiration and quoted it there … :-).

Take one of their examples: you are part of a football team in a small village, where everyone votes PVV (or SP, of SGP, or PvdA, or CDA, or VVD, or whatever), only you disagree secretly. They all vow to post their ballot on Twitter, because that is legal. Do you think everybody in this country would dare to stand up against his/her own club, say no, and vote differently? We have to protect whose who are weak and vulnerable to ensure a free and fair election. If a vote is only “voluntarily” secret, it is not really free and secret (as the practice in East Germany showed too well).

The court dismissed the case, but very clearly recocgnized the serious concerns raised. Nonetheless, “it is not forbidden” – as the minster and highly apreciated fellow Spinoza-prize winner, Ronald Plasterk, has explicitly told the public yet again. In fact, the media is even promoting it with such ridiculous articles as “Nine tips to make a perfect picture of your ballot“. The “Parool” could not have shown a more insensitive and clueless attitude towards democracy. At least in the UK, where a similar discussion is happening, the BBC reports states “The Electoral Commission fears (that) the craze for taking self-portraits on phones and posting them on social media threatens the secrecy of the ballot”. Indeed, an election with a wave of “stemfies” is in danger of being invalid.

So, my plea to anyone who cares about the long-term future of democracy: show respect, don’t take a “stemfie”!

(Picture above shows Alexander Pechtold, leader of the D66 party in NL – from NU.nl)


P.S.: I was discussing the NL court ruling with Luca Kruijswik. My German thinking is: “you lost, so you lost”. However, he claims that the Dutch system is different (see below). I am curious to find out, whether that is just wishful thinking or Dutch reality.

L.K.: “Don’t worry, this verdict is a deep disgrace for our Ministry.

In most countries, success, failures, mistakes are valued high, especially in Eastern European countries.

In the Netherlands we care less about mistakes/failures/success, but more about honesty and loyalty to the case (whatever that
will be).

This has maybe to do with our dike builders. You build one dike for a whole community. Then it is more important that your neighbor, that maintains a piece of dike that also protects your property, is honest and loyal to the case. Any mistakes will be picked up by the group.

If you read the verdict, the judge said, you didn’t make a mistake, but you were not loyal to the constitutional values. This is a
total disgrace in our country. The Judge couldn’t make it more worse for the Ministry than this. Just correcting the situation was too simple. He wants the Ministry to do that.

Furthermore, we have 2 Professors in State Law that agree with the claim, so, one should not be worried about the outcome. In the plead of the State, it was stated that there will come a statement of the whole government. Such remark can only be made, if the Ministry of General Affairs (with Rutte as Minister) has confirmed this. This statement must take the verdict of the judge into account.
And the judge didn’t leave much space to come with another solution than to forbid the stemfie.”