WHAT do carousels and Slovak regional elections have in common? If you’re guessing that merry-go-rounds are a common part of local political rallies, or that candidates like to show-off riding their stallions, you’re wrong. ‘Karusel’ is a foolproof, hard-to-detect method of buying votes. It works like this – you drive a group of ignorant voters, usually people from Roma settlements, to the proximity of an election room. The first of the bought voters goes in, but doesn’t actually cast a vote. Instead, he throws an empty envelope into the box and brings out the empty ballot. The person in charge of the operation circles the right candidates on the ballot, hands it to the next ‘voter’ and sends him in to vote. The second voter casts the marked ballot and brings out a new empty one, which serves as proof that the circled sheet has been cast and cash can be paid out. This is how the carousel can go round and round as long as you have fresh people to ride it.
Thanks to a different voting technique, in parliamentary or EP elections, rigging can be an individual sport, for which you don’t necessarily need a larger team. In those elections, there is a separate ballot for each party. The voters select the party of preference, put its ballot into an envelope, and can keep the remaining ones. Showing the unused ballots is a pretty reliable form of proving who you voted for.
It is always difficult for parties to resist the temptation of getting easy votes. But rarely more so than in local elections, where only a couple of hundred votes are needed to get elected to regional parliaments and even heads of the eight regions only receive tens of thousands of votes. And there has probably never been an election with so many allegations of fraud. So far, the buying of votes has been a disturbing, but marginal, phenomenon. Now Slovakia is fast approaching a situation in which entire elections will be put into doubt. One can hardly imagine a more serious blow to democracy, than politicians declining to accept the results of elections.
So how expensive is it to buy a vote? Only five or ten euros. Just enough for a couple of rides on a carousel.