The local elections on Sunday 8 October will decide who will govern your town or village.
However, do you know how many votes you have? Do you know how the votes are counted and how the winners are decided?
You may find local politics a bit boring--but it is actually the closest to you, because it decides how many crèches are available, whether shops are open on Sundays or not, or whether the local park is being well maintained or neglected. In the same vein, knowing how to fill out a ballot paper is essential if you want your vote to be counted.
Who can vote/be elected?
If you have Luxembourg nationality, you are obliged to head down to your polling station.
If you have another nationality, you could have registered to vote for these elections if you have lived in Luxembourg for 5 years and are over 18. It does not matter which citizenship you have, but you must have registered before 13 July. Voting is obligatory for citizens, and once you registered, you are also obliged to vote.
Josiane Schroeder, who is the president of the Tribunal d’arrondissement in Luxembourg City, explains however that:
“so far, no one has ever been prosecuted for not turning up to vote over the past decades. In practice, people are not prosecuted if they don’t vote even if it’s written in the law.”
Since 2011, the positions of mayor and aldermen are open to anyone who has resided in Luxembourg for the past 5 years and is over 18. The law of 16 February 2011 also states that Luxembourgish is the common language spoken during the council meetings, and that the councillors may also express themselves in one of the other official languages (French or German).
One system for villages and one for towns
If you live in a small village with a population of less than 3,000 inhabitants, your voting ballot will only feature individual candidates, no parties. That is because a Westminster-type majoritarian system is applied: it means that parties are less important, and individuals present their ideas to improve the village. The candidate with the most votes gets elected.
In towns and cities which have a population of more than 3,000, a proportional representation (PR) is used. Here, candidates belong to a party list.
The number of bigger local councils has been increasing steadily because of population growth more generally, but also because the government has made a concerted effort to make local government more efficient through the merging of smaller councils or merging a small one with a bigger council. In 2011, there were 116--now there are 103. This has implications for the politics within councils, as the more PR is used, the more predominant parties become.
Party or candidates?
If you live in a town of over 3,000 people, you are spoilt for choice. In most big municipalities, all the parties put up a list of candidates- so you may have up to 7 parties to choose from. A party can present a list of fewer candidates than there are seats in the local council. Not only that, you can between a party or different candidates from different parties. This is called “panachage” in Luxembourg--much like that infamous mixed drink of white wine with Coca Cola which gives you a headache. The example provided below is a fake ballot paper (all the names are fake as well--any connections to real persons was not intentional).
You can vote either for one party, giving it all your votes (equal to the number of councillors to be elected). In Luxembourg City for example there are 27 councillors to be elected--so you have 27 votes and these will be distributed equally to every candidate on that party list. Easy!
As said before, you can also spread your votes over candidates from different parties. You have a certain number of votes depending on the number of councillors in your local authority. Schroeder explains it from the assessor’s perspective:
“If the voter has used panachage, i.e., has given his 27 votes to candidates and not a party list, we need to count whether he has effectively given out 27 votes, not more. If there are more votes, the ballot paper is invalid. The voter is allowed to give fewer votes than there are seats, but not more. If you vote for a party, then you have no more votes left.”
You have several possibilities: you can give or more candidates two votes, and give other candidates just one vote. Or you give every candidate you like just one vote. This gives freedom to voters who don’t feel particularly drawn to a party, but want a more personalised politics. Luxembourg’s politicians, and especially local politicians, are often well known in their community, and people often vote according to whom they know best. This may also have certain drawbacks, as candidates may get elected according to their levels of notoriety, rather than competence.
*This is a fake ballot paper.
On election day
Schroeder, who is head of the main polling station in Luxembourg City, said:
“The council is responsible for the party lists and sets up the polling stations. The council decides who goes to vote in which polling station, and sends them a letter of notification. On the election day itself, it starts at 8 and people can vote till 2pm. People who are in the polling station are still allowed to vote after 2. You need to identify yourself, you get your ballot paper, you must go alone into the voting cabin ]secret voting]. Some people do the postal vote if they have written to the council that they won’t be available on election day. People over 75 don’t have to vote.”
However, if you give too many votes, spoil your ballot paper in any way (write on it, fold it too many times, or mark it in any way which could identify your vote) then it is invalid.
Behind the scenes
The president of the tribunal d’arrondissement nominates all the polling stations in the Centre, such as Bertrange or Strassen. The presidents of those main election offices nominate then all the presidents of the polling stations which are under their responsibility. Every polling station is composed of a president, a secretary and 4 assessors. He can nominate whom he wants. Schroeder noted that:
“Usually, he chooses people who have already done this before. It’s difficult to find people because it’s not paid that well anymore. But some people have done this for years, they like doing it and see it as an honour.”
For local elections, one polling station is responsible for 300 to 600 voters. Assessors, but not the secretary, must live in the same council in which they work at the election. The assessors cannot be related to the second degree with any party candidate, or amongst each other. If you are allowed to vote and are registered for the elections, you are also allowed to volunteer as an assessor.
“The central polling station proclaims the results. First we calculate the votes for party lists, and then the individual votes. According to a certain PR system, the votes are then calculated and the seats allocated to each party and candidate.”
Schroeder joked that: “It’s always a race to be the first to finish counting the votes! A bit like at school! In smaller councils, votes are counted once, but they’re counted twice in Luxembourg City and Esch.”
During the interview with Delano, the secretary for the main polling station, Ms Weber walked in and added:
“Every council certifies their results and proclaims them. In Luxembourg City, the main polling station is at the Limpertsberg, and the 70 or 80 election offices bring their ballots and their results. We then evaluate everything at the centralised office. The biggest councils need help--that is why they have a centralised office. In a small council of 4 polling stations, each station calculates their own votes, and then takes it to the head polling station. First they phone their result to the ministry of the interior before it is published.”