Mail-in ballot voting in Vojvodina is deeply flawed, but no one minds it enough to change it

The National Election Office (NVI) received a total of 318,083 postal ballots between 16 March and 6 April. The official data shows that in Serbia 44,729 voters cast valid ballots out of the 68,492 people qualified and entitled to vote. In recent weeks, however, several irregularities have surfaced, overshadowing the credibility of these votes. We have collected the weaknesses of the postal voting system based on the experience in Vojvodina.

The registration campaign

The Hungarians living beyond the borders of Hungary could participate in the parliamentary elections as early as 2014, but back then the interest was low. That is why the local ally of the Hungarian Government, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMSZ) launched a registration campaign in preparation for the 2018 elections, encouraging higher participation.

In preparation for this year’s election, the VMSZ made every effort to ensure that from the estimated 150-170,000 Hungarian dual citizens of Vojvodina as many as possible register on the electoral roll, exercise their right to vote and minimize the number of spoilt votes. Referring to this, István Pásztor, the president of the VMSZ, announced last November that their activists would pay individual visits to Hungarians in Vojvodina who also hold Hungarian citizenship to encourage them to register on the electoral roll.

The current registration campaign had a more modest outcome than in 2018, when the number of registered voters increased by 41.9%. In 2022, in comparison, the increase was only 7.1% from 63,816 to 68,350.

Unanswered questions

However, the question remains as to which country’s postal ballots are strengthened by voters ask for being notified by e-mail and fax, as the NVI does not keep a country-by-country register in their case, but their number reaching 119,543 and accounting for one third of all registered voters and almost half of the votes received.

According to the accounts, several unclaimed packages may have got lost in the rather long 25-day pre-election period. But this would explain the MTI piece of news, also shared by kormá in which Péter Szijjártó, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that 80 thousand  postal vote packages had been sent out to the Hungarians in Vojvodina.

The story of the denied activists and their boss

In recent weeks, several reports questioned the way postal voting is conducted. The Szabad Magyar Szó was the first to write an article about the VMSZ activists delivering the voting packages, then later shot a report on the same topic. 

On 11 March, Pásztor declared in a press conference “We are aware that the mail services are asking for external help so that the envelopes are delivered to the concerned parties on time. We have suggested the Concordia Minoritatis Hungaricae – CMH office. The letters have set off, and we are preparing that starting next week about 1000 activists will be in the field.” Nevertheless, the Hungarians in Vojvodina were still shocked that known VMSZ members knocked at their doors to deliver the packages for the Hungarian parliamentary elections.

On 18 March, after the Szabad Magyar Szó – based on readers’ feedback – wrote that instead of the CMH activists the party activists deliver the packages, in an interview to the Magyar Szó newspaper, Pásztor denied it: “I don’t know where you’ve got this from or where the ones stating that the VMSZ activists are delivering the packages take this from. This is a misunderstanding.”

Both Bálint Pásztor and István Pásztor sent those who were sceptical to the Serbian Mail company. We did the same. But the Serbian Mail company refused our request for disclosure of information of public interest, citing the privacy law. The reply of the Serbian Mail company can be read here in full.This is the first time that the VMSZ so clearly involves the Prosperitati Foundation in the elections campaign as previously they essentially settled for an overlap with the publication of the results, the signing of the contracts or the announcement of the winners. Nevertheless, it seems now that the current conditions have determined the Prosperitati Foundation to take sides openly as the stake of the elections in very high being the first time after long years that the united opposition is backed by a critical mass in Hungary, which may prevent Fidesz from obtaining the 2/3s or even change the government. This has made it finally absolutely clear that vote buying has been one of the main goals of the 6-year economic recovery programme.

Lessons learnt from the 2022 Parliamentary elections

The fact that the Serbian Mail company requested external help for the delivery of the packages shows that in Serbia anyone can lay hands on our personal details such as our name or address.

The attorney-at-law lodged an objection with the National Election Commission (NVB) on behalf of Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt (MKKP) on 18 March, being followed by sixteen private persons on 30 March and 1 April. The NVB rejected all the claims. That is why the MKKP turned to the High Court of Justice in Hungary, but it upheld the former NVB decision according to which the NVI hadn’t breached the provisions mentioned by the petitioner, and that it didn’t have any kind of follow-up obligations to check if the Serbian Mail Services proceeded according to the applicable rules.

At the same time, we cannot ignore that the politicians of the opposition were seen by the Hungarian voters in Vojvodina almost exclusively through the negative propaganda of the Hungarian Television and other state media during the campaign period. Opposition MPs made no special effort to appoint election observers abroad or to make sure by their own that the election was clean.

Translation: Auguszta Szász. Original article, in Hungarian, is available here.

This article is part of our project aiming to monitor the 2022 parliamentary elections in Hungary. The project was funded in part by a grant from Investigative Journalism Europe (IJ4EU) and a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the funders.

The English translation has originally published here.