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“Only citizens with genuine link to the country should be entitled to vote”

11 December 2011 Szerző: Címkék: Nincs komment

In 2002 and 2006 out-of-country votes had no influence on distribution of seats among Czech parties, however in 2010 one seat moved from one party to the other. MAREK ANTOS, Assistant Professor at Department of Constitutional Law, Faculty of Law, Charles University in Prague answered our questions via e-mail.

In most EU member countries citizens permanently residing abroad have the right to vote. However there is no universal European practice. Are there distinguishable models to follow among the countries?

The practice inEuropeis extraordinarily diverse. Some countries do not allow citizens resident abroad to vote at all, some allow them to do so if they come back at the election day, and some allow a remote voting from abroad. Even among the latter countries we can find many different attitudes:

Who can vote? In some countries only citizens abroad who have a special status, i.e. diplomatic or military corps, can vote (Ireland). Some other countries limit a maximum time spent abroad: the citizen is entitled to vote only if s/he is not resident abroad for more than 15 or 25 years (UK, Germany), to ensure that the genuine link with the country of origin is not broken.

In which elections voting from abroad is provided? Majority of countries which offer remote voting provide this option at least for the legislative elections (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany etc.) and, if applicable, also for presidential elections (Austria, Poland, Slovenia etc). On the other hand, voting from abroad in regional and/or municipal elections is rather rare.

How are the votes from abroad assigned to electoral districts? There are two possible options what to do with votes cast abroad. First option is to count them in special constituencies for external voters, which can be seen as a guarantee of a certain level of representation, but also as a limit of their influence on the election outcome (France,Italy,Portugal). More often option is to mix the votes from abroad with the rest of votes: either all external votes to one particular electoral district, or distributed among all districts according to the place of voter’s last residence in the country.

Which methods of remote voting from abroad are used? Most widespread method is personal voting at special polling stations abroad, usually at embassies. Many countries employs also voting by mail, while proxy voting and e-voting are much less common.

How many citizens of your country are concerned? How many of them participated in the last few elections? Did the votes coming from abroad ever change the election results decisively? If so, did it generate any tensions? Were there any recent changes in the regulations?

In theCzechRepubliccitizens abroad can only vote remotely to Chamber of Deputies (i.e. first chamber of the Parliament), and only personally at all embassies. This option is meant both for voters who are abroad for long- and short-term. The first group has to register in a special voter register administrated by the embassy in the country of their residence, where there stay registered (and entitled to vote) until they ask for deletion. Voters from the latter group don’t have to register; they only need to apply for a voter ID before the election, which allows a voter to vote in any polling station, including those abroad.

The estimated number of citizens, who are abroad at the polling day (both permanently and temporarily), is around 300 thousand. Only 2-3 per cent of them participate in the elections. The turnout is slightly increasing since 2002, when remote voting has been made possible: 3 763 votes cast in 2002, 6 744 votes in 2006 and 8 172 votes in 2010. I believe that the reason of low turnout abroad lies in the method employed: travelling to the embassy can be quite long for some voters, which represents a relatively high burden. There are discussions on further widening of remote voting possibilities (esp. postal voting and e-voting), but so far none of them has been enacted.

All votes from abroad are sent to one electoral district which is selected by draw before every election and mixed with other votes. This, together with their low turnout, limits the actual influence of voters abroad on election results. In 2002 and 2006 these votes had no influence on distribution of seats among parties, in 2010 one seat moved from the party Public Affairs ([Věci veřejné]) to Civic Democrats ([Občanská demokratická strana]). However, both parties are part of the coalition government, which, furthermore, has a big majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and so the impact of the shift has been insignificant.

What do you consider the ideal way to cast one’s ballot for non-resident citizens (e.g. voting at consulates, postal voting, electronic voting etc.)? To what would you particularly attract the attention of Hungarian decision makers?

In my opinion, inclusion of non-resident citizens in elections is a positive measure which countries should take into consideration. On the other hand, voters in all elections should bear consequences of their decision. That is not only the best way how to make one’s choice serious, but also the best way how to balance the interests and influence of voters abroad with those resident in the country. This leads me to two conclusions:

1. Only citizens with genuine link to the country should be entitled to vote, i.e. those who are not resident abroad for more than a certain amount of time;

2. The method used for remote voting should not constitute a disproportionate obstacle for voters abroad, which favours a postal voting (and/or e-voting) against a personal voting at embassies.

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