EXPLAINED: Why postal voting is currently stirring up a fierce debate in Czechia

A proposed reform to simplify voting for Czechs abroad has led to arguments from the opposition about the constitutionality of doing so.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 18.01.2024 12:34:00 (updated on 22.01.2024) Reading time: 2 minutes

After a marathon session Wednesday, the Czech Chamber of Deputies adjourned an urgent 15-hour debate on the government's postal voting bill for Czechs. The filibuster by the opposition delayed the debate's start, leading to a continuation at 9 a.m. Thursday that's likely to extend until Friday.

What's sparking such a heated debate on the topic? The proposed reform, which aims to simplify voting for Czechs abroad in the 2025 parliamentary elections, has led to intense parliamentary discussions over postal voting's compliance with constitutional requirements.

How do Czechs currently vote abroad?

Czech residents residing abroad only have the option to vote at embassies which serve as electoral districts. Individuals must obtain a voter card, a process often complicated by the need to travel long distances, hundreds, even thousands of kilometers.

How many voters would be affected by a change in the law?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that 400,000-600,000 Czech voters live abroad However, only around 20,000 have applied for voter cards at embassies. The government's proposal aims to simplify voting for those abroad, anticipating increased interest in the 2025 parliamentary elections.

How will it work?

Registered voters will receive necessary materials, including envelopes and an identification card, allowing them to print the ballot from the election management information system. They will then place the completed ballot in the voting envelope, along with the identification card, and send it back to the embassy.

The Czech Republic is one among four EU countries where postal voting from abroad is currently unavailable. Similarly, France, Croatia, and Malta have not implemented simplified postal voting. Notably, Iceland is another European country without this option. However, in France, voting from abroad has been possible via the Internet since 2020.

Why is the opposition concerned?

Despite initially promising postal voting during its government with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, the ANO opposition movement has changed its stance, citing a reevaluation of the pros and cons for the shift in position.

Data suggests that votes from abroad predominantly favor current government members TOP 09 and Mayors and Independents (STAN), with only up to 5 percent for the opposition party ANO.

While some see postal voting as the more convenient option, the opposition has expressed concerns about the absolute freedom of choice and the potential for external influence. The opposition argues that voting behind a curtain guarantees a secret ballot, a claim rejected by the Ministry of the Interior.

What is the government's response to such criticism?

The government assures that correspondence voting will only be possible using documents provided by the embassy. The office will record individuals who request these documents, preventing valid voting without prior issuance by the embassy. The identification card, a public document, will be subject to forgery laws, with voters signing to declare their in-person participation.

What do the experts say?

Writing for Lidové noviny (LN), Martin Zvěřina describes postal voting as "a technical refinement of the civil law that carries certain problems which are not trivial but can surely be resolved via a compromise." The current parliamentary debate, Zvěřina says, is being overshadowed by power struggles rather than a genuine discussion on civic rights.

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