Free, fair elections require constant maintenance

- EN - NL

Elections are at the heart of our democracy. But keeping those elections free and fair requires constant work, warns Leon Trapman. Although Dutch electoral law is well regulated, there is still room for improvement: think of legislation around microtargeting, or a requirement for internal democracy within political parties. Trapman will be defending his PhD thesis on this topic at Radboud University on 14 May.

Although electoral law has been around for a while, a focused and comprehensive overview of all the principles required for free and fair elections has so far been lacking. In his PhD thesis, Trapman provides this overview, drawing from sources such as the Dutch Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Trapman also tests current electoral law regulations against these principles.

His conclusion is that the foundations of our system are strong. "You can vote for whoever you want; there is no large-scale fraud. The issues we have are mostly luxury problems," Trapman acknowledges. "But luxury problems are still problems. There is always room for improvement. Moreover, new questions and new developments constantly require new solutions." In his PhD thesis, Trapman discusses in detail what tools our system offers for continuing to adhere to the principles of free elections in the future.


Trapman: "Legislators have to constantly navigate between two extremes. Some principles are very clear, such as the idea that everyone has one vote. But other principles are a lot harder to uphold. For example, we find it incredibly important that voters should be able to form their opinion freely, but this is also a vague concept and therefore difficult to protect."

"Consider, for example, microtargeting, which political parties use to tailor campaign messages to specific target groups. This opens the door to voter manipulation, as the Remkes State Committee warned earlier. You run the risk of political campaigns losing their transparency and the free formation of voter opinion coming under pressure. But if you put too many restrictions on it, it has a disproportionate impact on parties’ freedom of expression."

Political Parties Act

The lack of rules around microtargeting and other ’flaws’ in the existing regulations are addressed in the new Political Parties Act, which Trapman discusses in detail in his PhD thesis. "In recent years, we see an increasing focus on the political party. That is what this law addresses: what do we expect from political parties’ How are they allowed to be funded, how are they regulated internally, and how do they campaign’ In recent years, a growing number of parties have pushed the boundaries of what we find acceptable as a society, and this has led to additional rules."

Trapman expects electoral law to remain in flux in the years to come. "Every solution has both advantages and disadvantages. And new developments continue to put pressure on our system. There is no such thing as a perfect system, but by continuing to work on it, we can keep it as robust as possible."