"Let's vote," said Popeye. "It's compulsory," said Olive. But life is never simple in Belgium!

233 candidates. Should I choose randomly? 21 reasons why I should vote.

This time, it was compulsory. The four previous times, Popeye and Olive were very public-spirited. Yes, Popeye and Olive voted five times this year!

In April and May, they voted to elect their French President. They voted in Brussels. Yes, French people have their own polling station in Brussels whenever needed.

In June, they voted twice to elect their deputy. For the first time in their life, they chose to e-vote. E-voting was available to French residents in a foreign country. This was fun.

In France, voting is not compulsory.

This Sunday, Popeye and Olive went to vote one more time. But this time, in Brussels. Well, in their small city which is part of Brussels. (Brussels is made up of nineteen towns.

So they went to vote for their town’s local elections. Unlike France, Belgium allows its foreign residents to vote in the local elections. Unlike France, voting is compulsory.

This was a big first in Popeye’s and Olive’s lives. Especially when they heard that it would be “electronic” and that they would have to use a magnetic card, a screen and an electronic pen. This would be so much fun.

Besides they’d have to choose several candidates out of 233 contenders. Yes, this is right. 233 candidates to the local election in a small city of 50.000 inhabitants. Oh, the wonders of proportional representation! (Another difference between Belgium and France... It may take weeks to get a new town council... and months to get a government. Remember?)

You see, in France, you still get to choose a piece of paper with the name of your candidate (for President) on it or a piece of paper with one whole list of candidates per party (for Parliament and local elections). And you are not supposed to remove one single name from it.

But you have to choose at least two pieces of paper (therefore two candidates or two political parties) before entering the polling booth... just in case your neighbour is behind you and you don't want him to know who you are voting for.

And then you put one of them and only one (!) in a very small envelope (while in the polling booth)  and then you drop it into a ballot box and someone says: “A voté.” (Just voted.) Impressive, isn’t it!

On Sunday, Popeye and Olive got up quite early, took a shower, got dressed, ate breakfast, checked the map, got into their car and off they went to vote. Just like children. Eager to experience something new. No, just kidding...

The real fun started as soon as they got to the school and got ready to vote, each in his/her own polling station.

Popeye was registered in N°17 while Olive had to go to N°18.

They grabbed their own notification and their resident permit. One last kiss. This was a very solemn moment after all. And off they went. Popeye to N°17 and Olive to N°18 strictly obeying their notification.

At least, that’s what they thought they were doing.

When she arrived at her polling station (N°18), Olive held out her papers. The assessor checked them, put them aside and then gave Olive her magnetic card.

Olive walked to the nearest polling booth and was getting ready to insert her card into the computer when someone came suddenly behind her to prevent her from doing it. “No, no. You are not M. Popeye, are you?”

Well, not really actually.

Well, you see, Olive had kind of mixed up the two notifications. She had the right resident permit but she was at the wrong polling station with the wrong notification, with Popeye’s notification.

She was lucky she was in Belgium. The assessors started to guffaw. In France, this would have raised hell, well, sort of.

She was given her papers back. I mean, Popeye’s notification and her own resident permit. And she was asked to go to her own polling station where hopefully M. Popeye was waiting for her on hold.

Wrong. I mean, yes, Popeye was waiting for her. But he had already voted. Yes. Nobody had noticed that he was using Olive’s notification and that he was at the wrong polling station where he was NOT registered, by the way.

So there they were. Popeye was grinning. Olive was getting upset. And the assessors at her own polling station were looking a little bit embarrassed until they made a decision.

“Come here, Ms. Oyl. You can still vote here.” “Oh yes?”

“What name will I use?” said Olive. What a wretched sense of humour.

“Your own.” 

This is how Olive voted twice, yesterday morning. Actually only once herself but twice on the roll. Two Ms. Oyl voted yesterday in the very same polling station where only one of them was registered, of course. Because there is only one and only Olive Oyl.

When Popeye started asking questions about the validity of his vote and when he wondered, loud and clear, whether he should go back to his own polling station or not, someone said: “Oh, come on. Don’t worry. It does not matter. After all, you are French.”

Flabbergasted. They were flabbergasted.

They are French all right. So what?
One has to admit that like Shakespeare once said (about Denmark in “Hamlet”), there is something rotten in the state of Belgium...

Oh well, does it really matter? After all, when Popeye and Olive dropped their card in the ballot box, nobody ever said: “A voté”...

In France, voting is not compulsory but it is usually carried out according to the rules.

In Belgium, voting is compulsory. But one can obviously vote twice, according to the rule book.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

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