How democratic will voter registration be in Hungary? Not at all

When at the end of June 2011 Hillary Clinton visited Budapest, besides having a frank discussion with Viktor Orbán about the state of democracy in Hungary she also had a talk with members of the opposition. Here she said that “as long as there are free elections we cannot speak of the end of democracy” and remarked that the opposition as well as the governments of democratic countries all over the world “have to pay special attention to the election reforms.” She emphasized that “the electoral law is key and it will determine whether the Hungarians can freely express their will at the next elections.”

American observers might be misled by several points in the proposed law. Perhaps they will not understand why the Hungarian democratic forces are so upset about the plan to introduce prior registration without which a citizen cannot vote. After all, they will say, what’s wrong with that? Why is this undemocratic? In the United States people have to register to be eligible to vote and that practice doesn’t make the U.S. an undemocratic country. Thus, American critics are at a disadvantage in this respect. I have heard Fidesz politicians express their astonishment at American objections to the law on account of registration. If the Americans can have it, why can’t we Hungarians have it?  A perfectly good answer from the point of view of the Hungarian government.

Let’s face it, the American practice of registration is not the most democratic in the world. In the past registration was blatantly used to exclude certain people from the democratic process. Even today right-wing political forces are trying to keep certain people away from the voting booths by demanding a photo ID card.

In the last few decades more and more people have been encouraged to register, but participation in elections remains very low in the United States in comparison to other countries. Registration is necessary (and may be viewed by some as a necessary evil) in America because there is no compulsory domicile register, and thus no accurate voting list can be compiled. But that is not the case in Hungary. There is a domicile register on the basis of which the election committee of each voting district has a close to perfect list of eligible voters. The list is available ahead of time, and each person can easily check whether he is on the list or not. The likelihood of someone not being on the list is fairly slim.

Therefore, there is no reason to introduce a separate voter registration list unless of course the current government is trying to lower the numbers of those who vote in 2014. In fact, those Fidesz-KDNP politicians who spoke on the issue fairly freely admitted that they would like to ” filter out”  those who decide only in the last minute that they want to vote. Why? Because polls indicate that undecided, last-minute voters usually vote against the current government party.

It could easily happen

But there is another reason, and again Fidesz-KDNP politicians make no secret of their plans. They want to keep away the uneducated and the poor. Because they will be less likely to register than people with a higher educational attainment and social status. First of all, they are less savvy politically, and most are unfamiliar with the issues that may determine the country’s future. Many of them live in small villages, and we still don’t know how easy or difficult it will be for rural people to register. People will have to go to a public notary to register, but by the time registration begins next September notaries will be found only in the járás centers. Earlier I briefly mentioned that this government had revived an old administrative unit called járás that had been abolished in 1983. There will be 200 such districts. Since there are over 3,000 cities, towns, and villages I assume that it can easily happen than 15 or so villages will make up one járás. So, for rural inhabitants registration will entail traveling. Moreover, registration can be done only Monday through Friday during working hours. That should get rid of a lot of potential voters. Moreover, given the general political ignorance in Hungary there is a good possibility that these people won’t even hear that prior registration is necessary to cast their ballots.

The other peculiarity of the proposed registration is that, unlike in the United States, the registration procedure will have to be repeated every four years. Before every national election between September and April 30 (or fifteen days before the election) everybody will have to register again if they want to vote. Not just new voters, not just those who moved in the interim. Everybody.

Officially, the proponents of registration don’t reveal their real motives. They don’t say, as one anonymous Fidesz MP said to a reporter, that they “want to keep out those vadbarmok,” meaning those stupid people who will not vote for Fidesz. The official excuse for registration is that 350,000 new voters were added to the citizenry of Hungary as a result of the new law on dual citizenship and these people surely will have to express their desire to vote in the Hungarian elections. And if these people outside of Hungary must register, then surely the people inside of Hungary must also register. When pressed, Fidesz politicians can’t justify that proposal in any logical way. Hungarian citizens living abroad had to express their desire to vote in the past as well, and that didn’t necessitate voter registration inside of Hungary.

Finally, I would like to mention the possibility of  fraud if the election law goes through in its present form. At the moment the Fidesz-KDNP proposal includes a provision enabling Hungarian citizens living abroad to vote through the mail. Until now the voting process for Hungarians living abroad was extremely cumbersome, mostly on the insistence of Fidesz while in opposition. One couldn’t vote simply by sending an absentee ballot by mail to a local election committee. One had to appear in person at either the Hungarian embassy or one of the consulates. Considering that in the United States the embassy is in Washington and there are only three consulates (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) you can imagine that not too many Hungarians living in the United States voted. Now, all that will change. Unfortunately, there’s a catch. While in individual voting districts representatives of the parties are present to watch over the purity of the elections, these letters will be addressed to the National Election Center, a government office. Since most likely there will not be any oversight at this center, the ballot count from abroad could in theory be anything the government desires, or needs.

All in all, I would like to warn those Americans who don’t realize that this registration is not the kind of registration they are familiar with not to fall for this latest attempt at ending democracy in Hungary. If the Fidesz-KDNP plans concerning future elections in Hungary materialize there will be no way to dislodge Viktor Orbán and his party from power. He is already itching to move his whole office over to the former Royal Palace.

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Member

According to the draft law, Orban wants to appoint the members of the National Election Commission for 9 years (up from 4 years).

http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/08405/08405.pdf
Article 20.

Member

The head of the National Election Center (this is the technical center at the election) will also be an Orban appointee for 9 years. Art. 55. His salary will be equal to that of an undersecretary. He will select the computer people at the Center.

So only Orban appointees will see & count the votes that arrived in mail from abroad.

Cherry17
Guest

As far as I know, foreign observers will only be allowed to watch over things going on during the election through government officials. This also raises a lot of questions and doubts.

Member

By Articles 20 & 27, in reality, the National Election Commission will consist of

10 members from Fidesz (Chair, 7 members appointed for 9 years and 2 members appointed for the election),
1 member from Jobbik,
2 members from the democratic opposition (MSzP & LMP, since DK is not recognized as a party in Parliament),

That I call a super majority to decide any dispute or reject any claim of fraud!

Member

But see above, the head of the Center will also be an Orban appointee by Art 55.

My interpretation of Art 245. is that
four people can be present at the counting of the votes from abroad.
representative of the

Election Commission,
Elections Center,
Media Authority (?), and
only one foreign observer.

Three of them are Orban’s wo/man, and if there can only be one foreign observer, they can choose a friendly one.

Note that independent or opposition domestic observers cannot be present.

Jano
Guest

At this point, I see no chance of turning this bill around. I think the opposition and civil organizations should very soon start focusing on getting as many people register as possible. This should probably be done more by the civils than parties and with the sole intention to make the voters register without trying to convince them who to vote for. This is a lot of legwork, but I don’t see any other way.

Minusio
Guest

“… there will be no way to dislodge Viktor Orbán.”

I said so even before he was elected the second time.

Hank
Guest

“The other peculiarity of the proposed registration is that, unlike in the United States, the registration procedure will have to be repeated every four years.”

Do I understand you correctly that in the US you do not have to register again as long as you do not move house? I think it is like that in France and the UK, as well?

Bowen
Guest

Hank :
Do I understand you correctly that in the US you do not have to register again as long as you do not move house? I think it is like that in France and the UK, as well?

In the UK, you have to be on the electoral roll in order to take part in any elections. Each household (not individuals) is sent a form each year to fill in. And the household sends it back, declaring who lives there. You can send this back by mail for free, or do it online. You don’t need to go anywhere in person. This is called ‘electoral canvassing’ and, as I said, happens each year.

Being on the electoral roll also confirms your address and how long you’ve lived there. It’s difficult to get any kind of loan, mortgage or credit card if you’re not on the roll.

Member

Hank :
“The other peculiarity of the proposed registration is that, unlike in the United States, the registration procedure will have to be repeated every four years.”
Do I understand you correctly that in the US you do not have to register again as long as you do not move house? I think it is like that in France and the UK, as well?

This is how it goes in Northern Virginia: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/vregis.htm

At bottom of the page the voter registration drive is mentioned. These are mobile registration offices organized by volunteers. That is what is needed in Hungary, Considering the results in the latest municipal elections we can make Orban regret this registration idea.

petofi
Guest

“Considering the results in the latest municipal elections we can make Orban regret this registration idea.”

Don’t be too sure of this. From what I’ve seen of Orban’s ‘modus operandi’, he likes to ‘sacrifice’ one or two things–as, for instance, in his negotiations with the EU–in order to get away with the important stuff, and to appear as a ‘negotiating partner’ in good faith.

So, he doesn’t mind Fidesz losing a seat or two now so as to verify the legitimacy of the Hungarian electoral process; but that won’t stop him from committing massive fraud come the major elections.

Remember, he’s a Felcsutian!

Kingfisher
Guest
petofi
Guest

Kingfisher :
Talking about Felcsut! http://atlatszo.hu/2012/10/08/tao-penzek-ii-felcsut-az-abszolut-nyertes/

Money enough for everything except,
–teachers,
–doctors,
–hospitals,
–schools,
–handicapped

You see, you can only make money–have your hand out–when you buy, or sell, something.

HAJRA MA-GYA-ROK!

HA-RA VIK-TOR!!!

Erik
Guest

Two small but notable things are missing from this (as always) excellently thorough piece. One is that folks on the government side have been quite open about this being purposely put in place to depress the vote among the less politically engaged or partisan, i.e. swing voters. The second is that there are some reasons to believe it could backfire on the government.

Louis Kovach
Guest

Dr Balogh: “Even today right-wing political forces are trying to keep certain people away from the voting booths by demanding a photo ID card.”

Could yopu explain who those “certain” people are? Is there a discrimination in the USA for giving out photo ID cards? Also why is it that such requirement is claimed to favor “right wing political forces”?

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Leto
Guest

“Even today right-wing political forces are trying to keep certain people away from the voting booths by demanding a photo ID card.”

Holy cow! 😀 😀 😀
FYI, that’s been always the law in Hungary. As it should be, you are allowed to vote only if you produce a photo ID card. Period. Even yesterday “left-wing” political forces demanded a photo ID card from people in order to vote. Believe it or not, that was the case even under the disasterous rule of your beloved Gyurcsány!

Member

Alert! Fidesz is changing the Media Law, AGAIN, with retroactive effect.

http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/08635/08635.pdf

I hope it is not against Klubradio.

Leto
Guest

My heart goes out to those in undemocratic US who must suffer this way. Maybe Freedom House, with Mr. Charles Gáti’s consent, of course, should degrade their democracy mark for the US below Hungary’s democracy mark where producing your normal photo ID and your address card has been always sufficient to identify yourself at the ballot box. And it’ll continue to be… provided, from 2013 onwards, you’d register for voting beforehand (like in undemocratic US)

Guest

Alert!.

Loonie lying leto has arrived – he’s been on pol.hu twisting the truth and lying for several months. There he’s even promised never to write anything against Fidesz …

The examples here already show that he tells blatant lies – the registration procedure planned for Hungary is totally different from all the other democratic countries that have been quoted. It also is discriminatory because people from abroad can register by just writing while people in Hungary have to appear in person at an office, even if they are handicapped …

BTW leto has already acknowledged that it hates Jews, Homosexuals, foreigners in general and every “liberal leftie” and wants them destroyed – I usually address it as “Orbán’s rabid kutya”.

Bowen
Guest

wolfi :
Alert!.
Loonie lying leto has arrived – he’s been on pol.hu twisting the truth and lying for several months. There he’s even promised never to write anything against Fidesz …

I wouldn’t normally wish to denigrate someone personally, but I strongly suspect ‘Leto’ is someone (or a group of people) contracted to write pro-Fidesz comments on blogs 24/7. (The alternative is too wretched to contemplate). Therefore, Hungarian Spectrum can take pride in the possibility that Fidesz is worried enough to send its sockpuppet forces here.

Member

Leto :
it’ll continue to be… provided, from 2013 onwards, you’d register for voting beforehand (like in undemocratic US)

Would you mind explaining what is the purpose of the new registration law (in Hungary) when, as you said, one can vote with an id card and address card?

Delalfoldi
Guest

Don’t feed the troll. Please ignore Leto.

Leto
Guest

And I usually address ‘wolfi’ as “unwelcome alcoholic foreigner in my country” in return on politics.hu. I certainly don’t hate Jews, homosexuals, foreigners in general but I do hate some. For example I hate this lowlife “wolfi” who shamelessly lies and blacksmears my country all the time and this is why I don’t welcome him in Hungary.

Guest

leto’s writings on pol.hu about “fags”, “bloody foreigners”, “post communists” etc clearly show “Wes Geistes Kind er ist” – the only difference to the Nazi Jobbik being that it adores its master Orbán …

Everybody who’s been reading this blog knows that I love Hungary (I wouldn’t spend the better half of every year here if it weren’t the case) and of course I love my Hungarian wife – but I can’t stand Nazis and other right wing loonies …

@Leto: Why do you come to this place filled with ” idiocies from Eva S. Balogh” and others ???

Really strange …

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