Voting is mandatory and non-attendance punishable with a fine. This time the obligatory nature has been extended to EU citizens who are required to vote for the European Parliament. And with my home country still hanging by two fingers in Europe, I had to do my democratic duty.
The whole exercise felt quintessentially Belgian. A very informal, almost festive atmosphere. A whiff of the absurd and not totally serious, with the proportional representation system resulting in voting lists of two or three hundred names. Everyone talks to everyone else, including the police, with an easy formality. You sort of expect Tintin and Snowy to come out of the booth next to yours. You cast your vote electronically: the machine in the booth prints out a slip which you scan outside the booth and then drop in a box. Mine wouldn’t scan: a young lady ‘scrutatrice’ (polling assistant) blew on it and it worked.
My mind went back thirty years: just married to my first wife. With no kids, she was an obvious choice to be commandeered as a scrutatrice. In those pre-computer days, voting was on green A3 sized forms, each with perhaps two hundred names. Counting was by hand. At ten at night, six hours after polling had closed, I walked into the schoolroom where they were finishing up the count, unstopped by any policeman. The same slight sense of the absurd. The numbers would not add up, three votes too many, and finally the head counter with a ‘D’accord tout le monde?’ (Nobody objects, do they?) and a bemused smile, distributed them among the obvious losers, and everyone could go home for the night. Very Belgian.