Postal voting: pros and cons. IPN debate

Recently, Parliament gave a first reading to the draft law that enables particular categories of voters abroad to vote by post, along with the traditional method of electing with physical presence in polling stations. The legislative initiative, which was proposed by the parliamentary majority, has sparked harsh criticism among the parliamentary opposition, including for the fact that it offers this right only to voters who settled in Canada and the United States. Why the idea of this bill appeared, what legal procedures are proposed for implementing this idea, what the pluses and minuses of the bill are, what the voters in the diaspora will gain or lose and also what the quality of electoral democracy as a whole will be following the implementation of the new provisions were among the subjects discussed by the experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Postal voting: pros and cons”.

The permanent expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan said that a pilot project is an experimental initiative meant to test the feasibility of an action and its usefulness and does not last for more than two years. Subsequently, certain conclusions are reached and a decision is made whether it is a successful practice worth entrenching or the piloted idea should be abandoned.

“Postal voting is a way for people to mail their votes when they cannot go to ballot boxes in polling stations, which are mandatory primary places for the citizens to cast their votes. Alternative voting methods are other than voting at polling stations. Typically, these are electronic voting and postal voting. And here it is very important to note that voting with the mobile ballot box is also an alternative voting method that forms part of the category of remote voting,” explained the expert.

As for the principles of organizing elections and taking part in them, Igor Boțan said that they are stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova. Thus, one of the constitutional articles expressly says that universal suffrage refers to the fact that the citizens of the Republic of Moldova can vote and stand as a candidate at elections regardless of race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, religion, sex, opinion, political affiliation, wealth or social origin. “So, universal suffrage has nothing to do with how to cast the vote and this must be very clear,” he said.

The expert noted that regarding equal voting, the Constitution says that in any election, each voter has the right to cast one vote. Each vote shall have equal legal force. Another principle refers to direct voting – the voter votes personally and voting instead of another person is prohibited. “Article 6. Secret ballot – voting in elections is secret and the possibility of influencing the will of the voter is thus excluded. Respectively, the freely expressed vote is also a constitutional norm – no one is entitled to exert pressure on the voter to make them vote or not vote or to prevent them from expressing their will independently. These are the main things we must keep in mind when we talk about postal voting as well, which is only a method of voting,,” stated Igor Boțan.

MP of the Party of Action and Solidarity Vitali Gavrouc said that the need to pilot postal voting was obvious, this practice being implemented in over 50 countries, including 13 European Union member states. This draft law had been worked on for more than a year and the observance of the constitutional principles pointed out by expert Igor Boțan was the catalyst for this legislative proposal.

“We, the MPs who came from the diaspora to Parliament, felt ourselves all the positive or negative experiences of the elections. We also participated in the organization process and saw with our own eyes what problems the citizens who are abroad face. Respectively, as progress advances, surely the Republic of Moldova must implement all ways to broaden the categories of citizens who can benefit from their constitutional rights. And in this case – postal voting as a solution that is well known in developed countries - is the optimal solution. It enables to considerably increase the pool of citizens who can exercise their right to vote,” said the parliamentarian.

Vitali Gavrouc noted that he is curious to learn from the critics of the bill what a citizen loses as a result of the implementation of this law, if everyone who was able to vote in the previous elections remains with the same rights to vote. And they are also joined by citizens who previously could not exercise their right to vote. “This process of identifying alternative voting solutions is related to other solutions that have been identified for the diaspora, such as increasing the number of voting days and also the number of polling stations, etc.” exemplified the MP.

According to him, there is an objective situation abroad, namely that Moldovan citizens in particular regions live compactly, but for the most part are very dispersed, being far away from polling stations. Physically, the Republic of Moldova cannot organize abroad an electoral process similar to the one staged in Moldova, where the distances between polling stations are of hundreds of meters. “Abroad, for objective reasons – logistical, technical, but also legal ones as it goes to the legislation of a number of countries – the Republic of Moldova cannot ensure the same conditions as for the citizens from the country. That’s why the state can show good faith and come up with initiatives to increase the number of citizens who can exercise their right to vote,” said Vitali Gavrouc.

MP of the Bloc of Communists and Socialists Grigore Novac noted that the obvious need to pilot postal voting is invoked, but it’s not clear where it comes from. In discussions he has with citizens abroad, including overseas, these expressed their confusion about the government’s arguments that they had asked for such a way of voting.

“If they asked, then when and by whom? If they asked, what number of citizens asked for it? Why hasn’t it been made public? Why weren’t we involved in this process? And here is the answer to these questions - because this initiative is a mimicked invention namely in Canada and the United States,” stated the MP.

According to him, a pilot project in its essence is an electoral test to see how an alternative mechanism works and whether it works in general. “This test and this mechanism a priori cannot have legal effects. No one denies that we should test, but what is the overall danger of this legally binding pilot project? As the vote is proposed to be taken into account. If the errors made by Romania, the U.S. or Austria are repeated, the elections in general risk being subject to annulment. And now the question arises, who would like a presidential election to be invalidated? Who remains President if the ballot is cancelled? The country cannot remain without a President. Maia Sandu remains President further,'” said Grigore Novac.

Thus, in his opinion, the government will decide, if the election result suits it, that the project is good, and the opposite, the government will find reasons to cancel the election. There is a great danger here. “If we want to really test an exercise like postal voting, let it be tested somewhere outside the country as our citizens cannot and must not be discriminated against in any way. If you want it to be tried only, with no legal effects, it’s ok to do it regionally, on a particular continent. But when you do it with legal effects, you can’t discriminate against other citizens,” noted the BCS MP.

The public debate entitled “Postal voting: pros and cons” was the 303rd installment of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates”, which is implemented with support from the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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