THREE weeks after Slovaks voted yes in the referendum on entry to the European Union, questions are being raised about how many people actually took part in the plebiscite.
The low turnout (52.15 percent) was perilously close to the minimum needed to validate the referendum, and now reports of voting irregularities suggest the figures could have been even lower.
Stories of piles of ballot papers waiting to be taken, and of names crossed off before people have voted, certainly seem to point to problems with the voting process.
When confronted with reports of unusual voting-room behaviour, the authorities responded by saying that it simply could not have happened. The voters who reported it, who were from different voting districts in different towns in completely different areas of the country, must have been suffering from some strange form of delusion.
How much of a difference could the lax distribution of ballots have made to the actual result? It is impossible to say - and impossible to find out. However, even if it accounted for more than 2.15 percent over the quorum, it is worth considering some of the other factors that reduced the turnout.
Voters could only vote in the polling stations outside the districts where they had their permanent addresses if they requested special permission to vote elsewhere.
Many young Slovaks (a group that was underrepresented in the votes cast) still use their parents' address as their permanent address, but may not go back there very often. Faced with a choice between voting at home or requesting permission to move their vote, many chose to ignore the referendum.
Also, Slovaks currently living abroad did not have the opportunity to file postal ballots or to vote in their embassies. Some of the many thousands of Slovaks living in the Czech Republic might have been sufficiently motivated to return to vote, but many there - and certainly elsewhere - would not be able to do so.
Any deliberate mishandling of the referendum process is inexcusable, but it seems likely that more than 50 percent of eligible voters would have cast their ballots had they had the opportunity.
So, let us remember instead the other figure that came out of the referendum - 92.46 percent of participants voted in favour of joining the European Union. That is the number that should go down in history books.
9. Jun 2003 at 0:00