The Brussels Region – the capital of the EU – suffers from one of the largest democratic deficits in the entire European Union. Brussels is the most diverse place in Europe. For example, around 220,000 EU citizens and 65,000 non-EU citizens with 5+ years’ residence could vote in the 14 October communal elections.
4 big myths that stop non-Belgians from voting
Lack of information has been the major obstacle. Myths around elections persist and dissuade people from registering. According to 2013 and 2018 online surveys, the low registration rate is mainly due to the fact that non-Belgians do not receive all the correct information in time.
1. MYTH: Voter registration must be complicated.
ANSWER: Voter registration is probably the easiest procedure that you’ll experience in Belgium because voting is your fundamental right and communes can impose additional obstacles. Download the one-page form on the website of your commune, the region or the Brussels Commissioner. You can send it via post, email (13 communes accept this) or third parties such as VoteBrussels.
2. MYTH: Voting is obligatory.
ANSWER: For Belgians, voting is obligatory, but non-Belgians can opt in and opt out when they want! If you sign up to vote by 31 July, you must go to the polls on 14 October, unless you vote by proxy because you are abroad, working, sick, etc. After every election, from 15 October 2018 to 31 July 2024, non-Belgians can de-register as a voter by simply writing to the commune. You can stay living in Belgium and even re-register if you want!
3. MYTH: I’ll get into trouble for voting in Belgium.
ANSWER: You risk hardly anything! The Minister of Justice has the power to give all first-time non-voters a fine of 30-60 euros, but no one has been fined since 2003. In practice, large numbers of Belgian voters do not vote. And if you do vote, you don’t risk anything either! VoteBrussels has confirmed that voting in communal elections has no effect on your status here or your voting or other rights in your country of origin. Only in European Parliament elections are you not allowed to vote in both your origin country and in Belgium.
4. MYTH: Nothing will change in Brussels.
ANSWER: A lot could change with this election. Local authorities are more powerful in Belgium than in other EU countries. Current polls suggest major changes could happen in several Brussels communes. Plus, the nearly 300,000 non-Belgians in Brussels would be 1/3 of all voters. That’s enormous! In local elections, city councilors can usually get elected with just a few hundred votes and mayors with a few thousand.