What will it take to get more Brussels expats to vote in Belgium’s communal elections next year?
That’s up for discussion in a citizens’ seminar in Brussels on October 26. Municipal authorities, local non-government organizations, and city residents are invited to the event organized by nonprofit organization Objectif, in collaboration with the Council of Brussels Residents of Foreign Origins (CBOE) and think tank Migration Policy Group.
“The citizens’ seminar is open to all residents, with or without Belgian citizenship, who want to do something in some voluntary way to encourage foreign citizens in Belgium to register to vote,” says Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group. “The seminar will be a venue for interested individuals to meet up with local authorities and NGOs that are planning to undertake campaigns and actions so that, together, they can reflect on what is needed, what will work best, and how they can all work together.”
What to expect? In the first part of the seminar, experts will explore ways of improving the registration and voting process based on a review of the 2012 communal elections. This will be followed by round table discussions on how to raise awareness and engagement among potential foreign voters. The activities will be conducted in French and Dutch, but English translations will be provided.
Low voter turnout among expats in last communal elections
Registered foreign residents in Belgium have the right to vote in the communal elections. EU citizens of voting age are automatically qualified to vote, but they must first enrol in the electoral register of their respective communes. For non-EU citizens of voting age, only those who have been living in Belgium for at least five years can register for the elections.
But most expats seem to be neglecting their democratic right to vote in Belgium. Based on figures from the Federal Public Service of the Interior, out of 800,679 expats who were qualified to participate in the 2012 communal elections, only 141,397 voted. According to the Migration Policy Group, EU citizens represented only four percent of all voters in the Brussels Region when they could have reached a maximum of 31 percent or one-third of the electorate.
Getting more expats to vote
What can be done to ensure that more expats will cast a ballot on October 14, 2018? Communes have a large role to play. A study released by the Université libre de Bruxelles shows that a higher number of expats voted in communes that were actively engaged in efforts to reach out to their foreign residents.
Expats can also do their part to foster inclusivity in the electoral process. Qualified voters can start enrolling in the electoral registers of their communes. EU citizens have to fill out a form to register, while non-EU citizens must complete a separate form. The deadline for registration is on July 31, 2018. Expats can also take part in activities and campaigns in preparation for the elections, such as the citizens’ seminar on October 26.