Getting out the vote among Slovaks abroad

SLOVAKS living abroad have only a few days remaining to make a request for an absentee ballot if they want to vote in the early parliamentary elections on March 10. Slovak citizens living permanently or temporarily in another country must contact their municipal office by January 20 and register to vote by mail.

SLOVAKS living abroad have only a few days remaining to make a request for an absentee ballot if they want to vote in the early parliamentary elections on March 10. Slovak citizens living permanently or temporarily in another country must contact their municipal office by January 20 and register to vote by mail.

Slovakia’s election law states that voters who will not be present in Slovakia on the day of the election who wish to cast a ballot must provide notification of that fact at least 50 days before the vote. Several internet sites, including the official webpage of the Interior Ministry, offer information on steps in the process.

Representatives from various organisations of expatriate Slovaks say the procedure is overly complicated and time-consuming and many individuals decide not to go through the process.

“Increasingly, there are voices of expatriates asking for the option to vote electronically,” Milan Vetrák, the head of the Office for Slovaks Living Abroad (ÚSŽZ), a government agency, told The Slovak Spectator.

Of more an estimated two million people of Slovak origin living abroad, expatriate organisations believe that anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 still hold Slovak citizenship. For the 2010 parliamentary elections, only 5,861 mail ballots were received by election offices from abroad, according to official statistics, but in comparison with 2006 when the option of voting by mail was made possible for the first time, the number of absentee ballots had nearly doubled.

Vetrák hopes the number of Slovaks using a mail ballot will increase in 2012 but added that this year’s parliamentary elections are different from those in 2006 and 2010 and the turnout can be affected by factors such as the abbreviated campaign period and some degree of scepticism among Slovaks living here as well as abroad after the fall of the government.

“Moreover, there are current political issues which are already are being discussed on social networks by people who participated in the previous elections and their mood is negative,” Vetrák added.

Up until January 11, 221 Slovaks living abroad without a permanent residence in Slovakia had registered for the early elections, Mária Grebeňová-Laczová from the special election office in Bratislava’s Petržalka district told The Slovak Spectator. Slovaks who no longer have an official in-country residence must request their ballot through this office.

Registering for a ballot

The election law passed in 2004 permits Slovaks living abroad to participate in elections if they fulfil several conditions: first, they must register with the appropriate election authority at least 50 days before the parliamentary elections via mail or, upon the agreement with a particular election office, via e-mail or fax.

Slovaks who maintain a permanent residence in Slovakia must send the registration request to the municipal office where they have permanent residence and those without a permanent residence in Slovakia must communicate with the special election office established in the Petržalka district of Bratislava. The request for an absentee ballot must include a declaration regarding the permanent residence of the applicant along with a photocopy of the applicant’s passport confirming Slovak citizenship.

The municipal office or the special election office in Petržalka will register the voter and at least 35 days before the election (February 4 this year) send the voter the documents needed to vote by mail, including detailed procedural information, the actual ballot and an envelope with the correct return address.

The voter is obliged to return the mail ballot in accordance with the instructions, while assuring that the ballot envelopes is received in Slovakia no later than on the last working day before election day, March 9 this year.

Getting out the vote

Vetrák believes there are several important reasons why Slovaks who are not present in the country on election day should participate in the parliamentary elections and have their say about the composition of parliament and the government. He also believes Slovaks living abroad have valuable contributions to make.

“Slovakia has to make use of the foreign experience of Slovaks living abroad, either by motivating them to come back and integrating them into society or through using their economic, scientific and diplomatic potential outside our borders,” Vetrák told The Slovak Spectator.

He also noted that Slovaks living abroad often send some part of their income back to Slovakia to family members. Data reported by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, the Statistics Office and the National Bank of Slovakia indicate that such remittances were as much as €1.09 billion in 2009.

The civic association Migrácia SK and the Association of Independent Experts for Questions of History and Life (ZNE) have developed a campaign called “I vote from abroad” to persuade Slovaks to participate in the elections. The programme has been established in cooperation with partners in Great Britain and Ireland, two countries with a high number of Slovaks as residents.

The campaign offers complete information about the registration process and the sequence of steps a voter must follow to have his or her ballot counted. The associations have put these documents on their own websites and also on Facebook where there is a site that has almost 3,000 Slovak fans from 20 countries around the world, Vetrák told The Slovak Spectator.

Vetrák added that his office sent e-mails to about 600 associations of Slovaks across the world asking them to encourage expatriates to register for the elections and vote, adding that ÚSZŽ is also cooperating with media and organisations such as the Association of Towns and Villages of Slovakia and Matica Slovenská, Slovakia’s cultural heritage organisation, to help persuade Slovaks to vote.

“The turnout for the forthcoming elections is expected to be low so every vote will count,” Vetrák said.

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