Absentee ballots from Romania may give rise to electoral fraud

We are witnessing a mad dash to register the largest possible pool of voters in Hungary’s neighbors, especially Romania. Currently 4,000-5,000 applications for citizenship reach the office handling the cases. The hope is to get at least 300,000 dual citizens living outside of Hungary to register, a task that can be done as late as 15 days before the actual election. Three-quarters of these votes will most likely come from Romania. In fact, the Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad extravaganza was also used to solicit more registered voters for Fidesz. The allegedly independent National Elections Committee’s chief, Ilona Pálffy, was on hand to make a pitch for voting in the Hungarian elections. In order to make the proposition attractive she minimized the bureaucratic hassles. In fact, she simplified the procedure to such an extent that the new investigative online website, 444.hu, immediately figured out that something was not quite cricket with the process by which a dual citizen votes.

Ilona Pálffy, formerly one of Viktor Orbán’s chief advisers, told the HírTV reporter who was present in Tusnádfürdő: “There will be many ways a dual citizen will be able to vote. He can mail his ballot in the country of his domicile to the National Election Committee; he can send it to the embassy or go to one of the consulates where there will be a box in which a person can even place all the ballots coming from the same village. He will not even need an ID. The registered voter can also bring his ballot to Hungary and mail it there. And finally, he can place his ballot in a box set up for this purpose in every voting district on the day of the elections.” Easy, isn’t it?

One’s very first question is how the authorities know that the person who arrives with a few hundred ballots is actually entrusted with the task by the voters.

Ilona Pálffy found herself in an uncomfortable position, especially after Együtt-PM cried foul and asked the obvious question. How can someone without any identification cast a ballot in the name of another person or persons? She tried to explain her earlier statement. Electoral fraud is out of the question. Hungary is simply following the practice of other countries. The voter will first place his ballot in an unmarked sealed envelope and will then put it in a second envelope with the name and the address of the voter. In one of the ways described above, these envelopes will reach the National Election Committee. There the outer envelopes will be opened and the unmarked envelopes “will be piled in a heap.” The ballots will be counted by the members of the National Election Committee.

electoral fraud

I checked the absentee ballot provisions of a few American states; several use this two-envelope solution. The inner envelope is called “secrecy envelope” and the second the “affidavit envelope” because on it there is a written declaration made under oath before a notary public or other authorized person. So far I haven’t heard anything about a declaration made under oath that would ascertain the identity of the voter. In fact, there is not word of it in the law concerning electoral procedures.

But there are other potential problems as well. Ilona Pálffy mentioned that representatives of other parties “can be present” when the outer envelopes are removed but said nothing about there being representatives of other parties at the actual counting of the ballots in the offices of the National Electoral Committee, a body whose members are all Fidesz appointees.

Then this morning I heard an interview with Zoltán Tóth, the foremost authority on elections in Hungary and abroad. He called attention to an odd distinction between “cím, lakcím” and “értesítési cím,” both meaning address. The latter is a roundabout way of saying that it is an address where a person can be notified.  (See  The Act on  Electoral Proceedings (2013. évi XXXVI. törvény a választás eljárásról). After all, aren’t the two the same? One immediately becomes suspicious: what is this all about?

Well, here at least is Tóth’s explanation. Currently “paid agents” of Fidesz (the government?) go from house to house, from village to village in Romania urging people to request a registration form. Once a request is forwarded by one of these agents, the National Electoral Commission compares the applicant’s data with the list of new citizens and decides on eligibility. After the eligibility decision is made, the registration form must be sent immediately to “the ‘értesítési cím’ of the given central register unless the citizen otherwise instructs.” In brief, it will be sent to the  central collecting center’s representative who solicited the registration.

These details are dealt with extensively in the law but nothing is said about who has to fill out the ballot and how the details of the person’s identity are ascertained. Presumably, the voter could simply tell someone else his party preference. Moreover, if there are Fidesz lists prepared in Romania as in Hungary, and apparently such lists already exist, someone could actually fill out ballots on the basis of that list. Tóth called attention to the 2010 postal voting fraud in the U.K., in Oldham, North Manchester, Richdale, and Bolton. A resident complained that he filled out the forms for his family but they were taken from his house by a party worker. Another voter complained that one of the parties got his details from the “postal voting list.”

I’m not at all surprised that the opposition parties are suspicious. Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to lose another election. His 2002 experience had a devastating effect on his psyche. The dual citizenship scheme was designed first and foremost to bolster Fidesz’s chances at the ballot box. István Mikola, minister of health in the first Orbán government, spilled the beans in 2006 when at a large Fidesz gathering he announced that “if we make voting from the neighboring countries possible at national elections we can cement our power for the next twenty years.”

I think Mikola was far too optimistic. Right now Fidesz hopes to have 300,000 registration applications. Of course, not all will actually vote, but I’m sure that the “paid agents” will make sure that most will. But even if 300,000 new voters all cast their votes for Fidesz apparently the impact on the outcome will be moderate, a difference of only about 3-4 seats. Of course, in a very close election these seats could make all the difference.

The experiences of the last three years show that Viktor Orbán and his minions are ready to use all legal and sometimes even semi-illegal instruments to make sure that they come out on top. They will do almost anything to win this election. And naturally money is no object. With this kind of preparatory work among the Romanian-Hungarian electorate the size of the Fidesz vote will be overwhelming in Romania.

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35 comments

  1. “I checked the absentee ballot provisions of a few American states; several use this two-envelope solution. The inner envelope is called “secrecy envelope” and the second the “affidavit envelope” because on it there is a written declaration made under oath before a notary public or other authorized person. So far I haven’t heard anything about a declaration made under oath that would ascertain the identity of the voter. In fact, there is not word of it in the law concerning electoral procedures.”

    In Oregon all the voting is done through the mail (although one can deposit the envelope a certain locations, such as libraries, to save the cost of the stamp). Every registered voter gets a letter, this letter includes the two envelopes Eva describes and the ballot. After the ballot is completed, it is supposed to be inserted into the secrecy envelope. Neither the ballot, nor the secrecy envelope have any markings that can identify the voter. The secrecy envelope is supposed to be sealed and then inserted into the mailing envelope. This envelope has the voter’s name and address printed on it and a space for the voter to sign. When this envelope is mailed and received at the election office, they compare the signature with the one on file, to make sure that the vote belongs to the registered voter whose name is on the envelope, then they open the outside envelope, throw it away (I assume), place the secrecy envelope into a pile with all the other ones and they open them while the process is being witnessed by representatives of all parties.

  2. London Calling!

    gdfxx if the same method is used as the one in England – then the signatures are not checked (like all bank cheques actually – or checks!).

    It would take too long for the count.

    The signatures are only used if the result is disputed or if suspicion is raised to the electoral officer.

    This was one of the issues in Oldham – facilitating fraud. The magistrate said that local election rules were like that of a banana republic!

    And they haven’t been changed.

    Regards

    Charlie

  3. “The signatures are only used if the result is disputed or if suspicion is raised to the electoral officer.”

    I wonder how this works. If a vote is disputed, by then nobody is supposed to know, whose vote that was. Otherwise where is the secrecy?

  4. All the components have a matching bar code. That way your vote can be uncovered in the event of fraud etc – but only through the (independent in England!) electoral officer….and after the declared result.

  5. A word about the “Undecideds”…With the present rate of intimidation and government criminality, it should be no surprise that people do not want to be declaring their voting preference. Since their is no negative
    implications in preferencing the government, logic would suggest that many who won’t declare will actually vote against Fidesz.

    Similarly, many who now indicate their choice as being Fidesz may just want to avoid possible repercussions…So, the polls may be far off. Unfortunately, fraud may set them ‘right’ yet!

  6. I still believe that Election observers from the EU should be deployed to Hungary not only the day of the election but at the preliminary stages. As there are obviously great concerns regarding data collection, privacy and confidentiality even at this early stages of the process, without an independent observer’s presence I would be very suspicious of the results.

  7. Interesting, but overlooked tidbit:

    Ilona Palffy had also been for many years the chief secretary of the Constitutional Court under several chief judges. Interestingly nobody touched her, even though it was not an elected position so she could have been fired and replaced by a new secretary (a kind of chief of staff position, who sits at all conferences of the judges and manages the preparation of the opinions).

    Now it is clear she had been a trusted Fidesznik all along, who had on the one hand been close to all chiefs and at the same time most likely reported to his Fidesz overlords everything, as well as used her powers to Fidesz` advantage. This is the way Fidesz works, the left is just a bunch of amateurs, it seems.

    I also wonder about her untouchability, given that it is in the public domain that all state organizations, as well as some selected private entities, have so called national security coordinators within their ranks (of course their identity is unknown to most employees). Some are pros paced at the specific organization, and some are normal employees mandated for the specific mission, although if someone became such a mandated person, he/she will be open to further jobs later, I suppose.

  8. At previous elections, the same two envelop method has been used at embassies.The major difference is that previously one needed a registered address in Hungary and the vote “belonged” to that voting district

  9. Somehow on-topic: EUDO Obervatory on Citizenship (EUI, Florence, Italy) has just published this month a report by Andras Bozoki on ‘Access to Electoral Rights in Hungary’. It can be read here: http://eudo-citizenship.eu/admin/?p=file&appl=countryProfiles&f=1319-Hungary-FRACIT.pdf For more about Hungary, including a country report on citizenship and other news, please check out this page: http://eudo-citizenship.eu/country-profiles/?country=Hungary [Sorry Eva I would have sent this on an email but wasn’t able to find any on the blog]

  10. Indeed, his ideological ally and friend Traian Basescu used the Moldovan absentee ballots to win the last elections. To court this electorate further, he has recently announced the intention to request Moldovan citizenship after the end of his presidential mandate.

  11. In New York State absentee votes and other mailed in votes (military, for example) are not counted right away, even though results are announced almost immediately. The reason for this is the US “winner take all” single candidate program, where people are not voting for parties, but candidates. If in an election district there are let’s say 5,000 votes for Candidate A and 4,000 votes for Candidate B, and there are 700 unopened absentee envelopes, it does not matter who the mailed in votes are for. Even if all 700 voted for B, A is still the winner, so why hold up the process and count them manually? Of course, if the election results are close, all records are sealed and recounted

    In the Hungarian election all votes must be counted in order to arrive at the percentage of votes by party..

  12. France has banned absentee ballots since the 70s. However, at the last round of presidential elections, absentee ballots were re-authorized (also Internet voting), but only for the French living abroad, a majority of which had constantly favored the right-wing candidates in past elections.

    The turnout was a complete disaster, and the results an unexpected defeat for the incumbent. Those who favored his opponent(s) were more motivated to cast their vote than his ‘sociological’ majority.

    So of course, one must care about the process and its potential for fraud. The opposition should also react to the Fidesz ‘get out the votes’ machine. But at some point, when your ‘natural’ voters don’t want to vote… They just don’t. And it’s much easier not to cast a mail ballot than not to show up at a booth. There’s far less peer pressure.

    It’s a gamble, and I wonder how much resources the Fidesz campaign is going to bet on this one.

  13. [OT] The last Eurobarometer has been out for a week or so. It contains a few good news for the current majority (the judgment on the global economic situation of Hungary lightens for the second semester in a row), and a few not-so-good ones (the global image of the EU is up for the second semester in a row).

    http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb79/eb79_en.htm

    As the study was conducted in May, the effect (if any) of the row about the Tavarès report will only appear in the next wave.

  14. you missed today`s most important news item: Rahel (Rasi to `friends`, although I hear she is not especially liked in the XII district Fidesz and KDNP families) Orban, the oldest child of Viktor Orban, put herself into the limelight (sure, via his father`s interview in Blikk, but she wanted to be in the media) with her announced wedding.

    i am pretty sure she is slowly being groomed for succession. political dynasties are quite common all over the world, perhaps except for Europe. to live forever through offsprings is the underlying desire of any parent, even more so of powerful people (will Simicska`s or Csanyi`s kids inherit only the wealth or the power too, or the power will come automatically with wealth?)

  15. It seems an unneccessarily high risk strategy by the regime.

    Unnecessary because I think the regime is poised to win even if it decides to fight cleanly and fairly.

    Risky because if the *ethnics* vote does secure a victory (or even a 66%) the dictator wouldn’t have otherwise have won then the reaction within Hungary *proper* is not going to be favourablle.

    Secondly, given the high level of incompetence, untouchable arrogance and downright criminality to be found thriving in grassroots Fidesz-land there is no way on earth they are going to be able to pull this off without calling into question the validity and fairness of the election process. At that stage the EUcrats will, I feel have to intervene.

    The democratic oppositi,on (along with the various EU and US embassies) should now be demanding independent international election observers.If they are not forthcoming then independent NGOs should take on the responsibility of reporting the election abuses.

  16. Eva S. Balogh :
    May I call your attention to an article by Attila Ara-Kovács originally from the Partium, the most western part of Romania. In the article he has a link to a letter that appeared not long time ago in a Hungarian website in Romania. It is about the differences in outlook between the Hungarians of Transylvania and those who live in Hungary,
    http://magyarnarancs.hu/diplomaciai_jegyzet/megszallottak-es-megszallok-erdely-85872

    THanks for this link. I am not surprised at all. In Canada many of the Transylvanians who I spoke to do not identify themselves as Hungarians (or Romanians for that matter), but as Transylvanians. They want their independence or autonomy. In reality they do not want to be “directed” from any other countries. I heard the same from many Transylvanians who moved to Hungary. I think the truth is that most of the Hungarians a cross the borders simply want to us their citizenship and the privileges (if any) as much as Orban wants to use them. I mean what is the difference in having dual citizenship or not? Getting to cross borders more easy, having better access to certain services, and so forth. Do you really need a Hungarian id card to prove how Hungarian you are? Do you really need to be able to vote in an other country’s internal affairs? (Yes if it affects your family, or you when you are in that country.)

  17. Eva S. Balogh :
    May I call your attention to an article by Attila Ara-Kovács originally from the Partium, the most western part of Romania. In the article he has a link to a letter that appeared not long time ago in a Hungarian website in Romania. It is about the differences in outlook between the Hungarians of Transylvania and those who live in Hungary

    Interesting article and letter.

    It seems indeed there’s a lot of hype about all this (Ara-Kovács writing about ‘kettős állampolgárság őrültség’ and the ‘megszállottság’ rings true).

    Much to my surprise since I live here, I’ve heard several times ‘mainland Hungarians’ refer to Székely as ‘Romanians’ with a hint of contempt… we’re far from the concept of the ‘ideal Magyar’ (since besieged by those evil Foreigners) the populist ideology tries to promote.

  18. In Kolozsvár (Cluj), every single Hungarian-speaker I’ve met and spoken to there self-identifies first and foremost as ‘Transylvanian’.

    What’s more, they include the old Transylvanian Germans and Transylvanian Romanians (not the ‘mokányok’ who Ceausescu brought to the city after the 1950s) in this group category.

    For them, ‘Hungarians’ are people from outside Transylvania, and ‘Hungarians’ don’t understand the old Transylvanian ways.

    In fact, if a ‘Hungarian’ visits Kolozsvár, a native of that city is more likely to use the Romanian street names with them at first (for simplicity’s sake) rather than the ‘traditional’ place names which haven’t formally existed for about 100 years (e.g. Farkas utca, Petőfi utca, etc.)

  19. Laszlo Tokes asked the Hungarian government to declare a “protective status” over Transylvania kind of like Austria did over S. Tirol. He called it “védhatalmi státusz” in Hungarian. Sounds big …

    What would be the outcome of a referendum about the autonomous status? What would the status mean anyway besides the bluish flag? A quasi financial independence from the Romanian state like S. Tirol would be a disaster for the Hungarian taxpayers. We would have to pump billions of dollars to an autonomous region.

  20. … and just in. According to Victor Ponta, Tokes’s statement about the “protective status” is against the Romanian law. Here we go … The hardships of the Hungarian minorities. Basket case.

  21. Mutt :
    Laszlo Tokes asked the Hungarian government to declare a “protective status” over Transylvania kind of like Austria did over S. Tirol. He called it “védhatalmi státusz” in Hungarian. Sounds big …
    What would be the outcome of a referendum about the autonomous status? What would the status mean anyway besides the bluish flag? A quasi financial independence from the Romanian state like S. Tirol would be a disaster for the Hungarian taxpayers. We would have to pump billions of dollars to an autonomous region.

    There is clearly some Fidesz supporters who need some jobs. To putting an other and another layer on government issues is good for one thing, raise costs of running the government. There is simply no benefit for any group in micromanagement, because that it would come down to. Many services would be downloaded to the local level, and that would cost huge money. Maybe Tokes believes that there are much more money from where stadiums can built in a failing economy, but as soon as the elections will be over I guarantee that one way or another the money fountain will stop flowing.

  22. Technically it may well be possible for Fidesz to abuse this system in the way this is feared by some. But these votes will only count towards the compensatory list seats, and, depending on turnout (above all of citizens resident in Hungary) and some other factors, about 80 to 110 thousand of those will be needed for one seat. Without any cheating, Fidesz will still benefit from the votes of the newly naturalized Hungarians who never resided in Hungary in their life. With the maximum amount of cheating, given that there will be just about 500,000 such new citizens by Spring 2014, they may get one or two extra seats with forged votes coming from abroad, at the cost of involving so many people in the logistics of the operation that it is basically guaranteed that they will be exposed. I do not think that a sane politician who anyway expects a landslide victory will contemplate such a conspiracy. There are so many other and less risky things that they can try to win a few more extra seats (e.g. pork and barrel) … So yes, maybe there will be some overzealous right-wing activists here and there who will, probably with the knowledge or even initiative of some local Fidesz handlers, cast a few dozen illegal votes. But I would not worry much about this, I mean there are far bigger problems to be concerned about in the new electoral system, and, given where the country got, the situation would only be somewhat better if the old electoral system was still at place.

  23. This is a winner takes it all system. Clearly designed for the present day state of the Fidesz opposition.

    No second round – no “regrouping”. Another sneaky trick, that is new in 2014, and also helps the winner, is the fractional votes for the compensatory list after the winning candidate. In 2010 only candidates on the 2nd and the 3rd place carried votes to the lists. Now the winner can add the difference between the the winning number and the second. For instance: 1st place 50k, second 20k, third 10k votes. The winner adds 30k votes to the list the second 20k the third 10k.

    That is why those ratios in the polls are misleading. The bottom line: they have to be beaten individually in their district.

  24. It is, of course, a great pity that Fidesz can (and have done) point to the obviously unfair British first-past-the-post electoral system – and the fact that proportional representation was overwhelmingly rejected in a recent referendum. It’s technically possible to have a working parliamentary majority in the UK with round about a third of the vote (of the VOTE, not the voters – so we’re talking about 20% of the vote, and unlimited parliamentary power, potentially …

    It’s indefensible, though the one semi-credible defence constantly put forward is the need to have a local representative in parliament.

    What makes the UK situation slightly better than Hungary is the fact that there are huge regional differences – in identity, dialect, culture, income, history etc. So there will always be substantial numbers of socialists, conservatives, liberals, nationalists (and even some high profile independents) etc represented, whatever the national mood might be. For obvious reasons of 20th century Hungarian history, mainly massive centralisation, this is not the case here. And so it is perfectly possible to imagine a 100% Fidesz parliament at some time in the future.

  25. The very last, pre-2010 check on the Orban system, ombudsman Szabo will leave office on September 24.

    There will not be a single position left that is not filled by Fidesz apparatchiks for nine or twelve years.

    1. If there is a Fidesz crime, you will turn to the Prosecutor in vain.

    2. If there is an unlawful [sic(k)!] Fidesz law, you cannot turn to the Constitutional Court that is dominated by Fidesz appointees in any case.

    3. If people have grievances and want to hold a referendum, the Election Commission will block it.

  26. Attila Ara-Kovacs’s letter will reassure a certain mindset. But cigany-bashing is known, in Lunga peace-loving Hungarians chopped up four ‘roma’ with axes.
    1990 May 20

  27. Eva S. Balogh :
    Re Basescu, It seems so unfair that his won was solely due to Moldovan votes. I read about his Moldovan citizenship with astonishment.

    This is probably part of the movement to unite Romania with the republic of Moldova.

  28. Some1 :

    THanks for this link. I am not surprised at all. In Canada many of the Transylvanians who I spoke to do not identify themselves as Hungarians (or Romanians for that matter), but as Transylvanians. They want their independence or autonomy. In reality they do not want to be “directed” from any other countries. I heard the same from many Transylvanians who moved to Hungary. I think the truth is that most of the Hungarians a cross the borders simply want to us their citizenship and the privileges (if any) as much as Orban wants to use them. I mean what is the difference in having dual citizenship or not? Getting to cross borders more easy, having better access to certain services, and so forth. Do you really need a Hungarian id card to prove how Hungarian you are? Do you really need to be able to vote in an other country’s internal affairs? (Yes if it affects your family, or you when you are in that country.)

    There is more to it. Most Hungarians from Transylvania still long for the reunification with Hungary. They do know that it will never happen, but the Hungarian citizenship fulfills some of that desire. This is part of the Transylvanian-Hungarian psyche.

  29. Obviously I don’t know how to edit these quotes. The last paragraph of my 5:12 pm posting is mine, the rest is a quote from Some 1.

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