Foreign residents have until 31 July to register to vote

Summary

Many non-EU citizens don’t realise that they are allowed to vote in local elections in Belgium, which are coming up this autumn

Getting out the vote

Belgium goes to the polls on 14 October, with municipal elections taking place across the country. You don’t have to be a Belgian citizen to vote: Many foreign residents can have a say, as long as they register by 31 July.

Municipal elections might seem like small beer, but in Belgium’s highly devolved political culture the municipal councils have big say in how neighbourhoods are developed and maintained. Their responsibilities include public and green spaces, cleanliness, parking, housing, education and much more.

On 14 October, 300 municipal councils in Flanders will be contested, along with 19 communes in Brussels. EU citizens who are residents and of age can vote in municipal elections by right, as they can across Europe. But in Belgium it is also possible for non-EU foreign citizens to vote in municipal elections, if they have been resident without interruption for more than five years.

Register just once

If you voted in previous municipal elections – they happen every six years – you don’t need to register again, but participation in previous European Parliament elections does not count. Two different systems are involved.

To register, you fill in a simple form available from the federal election website or your local city administration. Once completed, this form must be sent to the municipality where you reside, where it will be checked against residence records.

If everything is in order, you will receive an official letter saying that you are on the local electoral register. If there is a problem, you will be told what it is and given options for appeal.

Registering to vote in Belgium does not affect any rights you may have to vote in your home country

A few weeks before the election you will receive a notification to attend, which you take to the polling station with your Belgian ID. Voting is compulsory in Belgian elections, so once you are on the electoral register you have to vote in all municipal elections or nominate a proxy. If you do not, you risk a fine.

Non-Belgians, however, have the option to leave the electoral register simply by writing to the commune after the election. It is also good to know that registering to vote does not affect any rights you may have to vote in your home country.

Details of how the whole process works are available on dedicated election websites covering Flanders and the Brussels-Capital Region. For information in English, consult the Brussels Commissioner for Europe and International Organisations, which is making a special effort to encourage expats to take part.

While registration is simple, the electoral process itself is more complicated. As in all Belgian elections, the municipal councils are chosen by proportional representation, with voters able to choose either a party list or to vote for particular individuals on the list. All of the regional parties are involved, along with some only active at the local level.

Provincial elections take place in Flanders on the same day, but these are for Belgian voters only.

Photo: Siska Gremmelprez/BELGA