Photo: Freepik

Czech Interior Ministry Defends Proposal For Overseas Voting

Petr Vokac, director of the Czech Interior Ministry’s elections department, told the parliamentary civil service committee yesterday that enabling correspondence voting for Czechs living abroad, as proposed by representatives of the governing coalition, fulfils the constitutional conditions of privacy and the secret ballot. 

He was reacting to objections from the parliamentary opposition, who argued the proposed method of voting by post does not comply with the constitution and is open to abuse.

According to Vokac, the condition of voting in person is fulfilled, among other things, by the identification card, which the voter receives from the representative office and which is returned to them completed, along with the official envelope containing the ballot paper. This ballot envelope, which the voter seals in order to maintain the secrecy of the vote, will be placed in the ballot box at the representative office and mixed with the others.

If someone were to unseal the envelope before the vote count and replace the ballot paper inside, they would be committing the crime of election obstruction, Vokac said. “The fact that something is factually possible does not mean it will be carried out,” he added.

According to the proposal, Czechs who are registered in the electoral register at the local embassy will be able to apply for a postal vote, declaring the address where they want to receive the voting documents. The voter would certify by signature that they have voted for themselves. They would then print the ballot paper from the election management information system, place it in the voting envelope and then, together with the identification paper, in the delivery envelope, which they would return to the representative office.

The overseas district electoral commissions would open the delivery envelopes after voting had ended, and use the identification cards to record the voter’s participation in the electoral rolls. According to the drafters of the proposal, the system basically excludes the possibility of a voter voting twice, even in person.

The coalition’s proposal was debated by the Chamber of Deputies for six days and more than 63 hours in total in the initial round, due to parliamentary obstruction by representatives of the opposition ANO and Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD). Yesterday’s discussion of the amendment in committee lasted about one and a half hours. MPs were given until early March to submit amendments to the proposal.

Opposition leaders called the proposal unconstitutional, manipulative and expedient, given that the coalition wants to push postal voting for next year’s parliamentary elections. In the last parliamentary elections, more than four-fifths of Czechs overseas voted for the current government parties. Among the common arguments from opponents of the proposal were fears of a loss of confidence in the election results due to possible rigging, and claims of a division of Czech voters into two categories.

Proponents of postal voting pointed to the need to allow Czechs in large countries to exercise their right to vote, when it is time-consuming and costly to travel hundreds of kilometres to vote at an embassy. They also recalled the long-term efforts to increase the convenience of voting. They also pointed out that the former government of Andrej Babis (ANO) also had postal voting in its programme declaration.

In the latest parliamentary elections, some 18,800 Czechs were able to vote from abroad, and some 13,200 of them did so. It is estimated that around half a million people living, working or studying abroad could vote by correspondence.

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