Constitutional Court okays discriminative provisions in election law

April 21, 2016


Hungary’s Constitutional Court yesterday ruled that controversial provisions in the country’s election law preventing Hungarian citizens outside the country but with an official residence in Hungary from voting by mail are not unconstitutional, reports

In other words, the Constitutional Court says that Hungarian citizens are not being denied their constitutionally guaranteed right if they cannot vote by mail from outside the country.

A Hungarian citizen living in the United Kingdom turned to the Constitutional Court because hundreds of thousands of Hungarians living in the UK must travel to a diplomatic office in London on the day of Hungarian national elections in order to vote.  For many this involves traveling hundreds of kilometers.

Conversely, Hungarians who live outside the country but do not have permanent residence in Hungary (for example Hungarian citizens in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, etc.) are allowed to vote by mail.

In an 8 to 5 vote, the Constitutional Court disagreed that this practice is discriminatory. According to the court’s ruling, there is no discrimination taking place because the two groups of voters are different.

The court ruled that it is perfectly reasonable to expect Hungarian citizens with residency inside the country to vote in person because they have a much closer relationship with the state.

“It is expected that they cast their votes in person, even at the diplomatic offices,” the court ruled.

According to the court, there is no way to determine whether the citizen in question actually lives outside the country on the day of the vote. This, the court reasoned, paves the way for citizens to make false statements about the precise location of their residence which, in turn, would compromise the legitimacy of the election results.

The government’s efforts to open voting opportunities for Hungarians living abroad without official residency in Hungary  has certainly worked to the governing party’s advantage.  Hundreds of thousands of people living in the near abroad of partial Hungarian heritage have been granted citizenship since 2010. For them, all they need to do is vote by mail — despite not living in Hungary or even paying taxes in Hungary.

In the 2014 general election, over ninety-five percent of votes cast in Hungary’s near abroad were for the Fidesz list of candidates, prompting various expert to cry foul.