With the municipal elections over, our lines continued burning up for a week after Election Day. Many voters turned to us for technical assistance (wanting to know, for example, if their vote was valid without an envelope, how to apply for a mobile ballot box, whether a teller was allowed to leave the polling station while voting was in progress, etc.), but we also received numerous calls about fraud, abuse, and deficiencies of process.
Similar calls came from many parts of the country—to protect our callers, we will only mention the region or the part of the city when we write about the case.
Let's start with a surprising one: in a downtown polling district in Budapest, voters had to cast their vote, instead of stepping inside the polling booth, behind a screen that seemed to be made out of a cardboard box and barely shielded the view. This case was particularly strange because such an arrangement tends to be used in smaller settlements and, moreover, because a similar solution used during the 2016 "quota referendum" in a Budapest polling station was found to violate the electoral laws, which means that the present violation must have been committed knowingly.
Most of the calls came from small settlements, and they were mainly about fraud involving the nationality elections. According to the calls, most of the abuses occurred in Southern Transdanubia and Northern Hungary. There was also a case when a member of the tellers committee left the polling station for a short time and upon return found that the number of the votes accumulated in the ballot box was too high compared to the size of the settlement, as if one-quarter to one-fifth of local voters had cast their votes within a single hour. When our caller asked how this happened and who were turning up during that time, the other members of the committee could not answer him. It is quite unrealistic in such a small community where everyone knows everyone else. Later, it turned out that the voters who allegedly voted at that hour were out of town that day.
A regular and typical form of the violation was for three to four people to enter the polling station together and discuss in a loud voice whom they were expected to vote for. It also happened frequently that a mayoral candidate was also present in the polling station at this time who promised benefits in exchange for votes or threatened sanctions if not supported. There are three legal issues with this:
- Anyone who is not currently exercising their right (i.e. does not vote, is not a member of the tellers committee, or reports on the polling) should be in the polling station
- Campaigning is forbidden in the polling stations
- Promising a financial advantage or threatening to impose a sanction in exchange for a vote is forbidden.
There were also violations of a movie-like absurdity. There was a settlement where, after the polling, there were ballot papers blown around by the wind on the street for some incomprehensible reason (and some of them were allegedly burned). The police turned up but did not act, commenting that "it is only a few ballot papers on the ground," which is irrelevant in the face of a suspected criminal offense. Elsewhere, there was a polling station, which closed at 7 pm, that is before the end of the voting, as if they were just bored with the job.
It also happened in downtown Budapest that a well-built unknown man appeared in the polling station and stood in front of the tellers committee for minutes. When some members wanted to record extraordinary events, he threatened them. There was no physical violence, but in another case in a small town in Northern Hungary, two candidates were chased by a car and on foot. The police descended on the scene but did not report a crime.
In another example, the police who interrupted the vote-buying needed to leave suddenly because a violent crime was reported in a nearby village, so there was no meaningful action taken in the case of the electoral fraud. The police acted inconsistently in the elections, sometimes reacting with surprising speed and simply spreading their hands at other times. There are many reasons for this, for example, the police are probably less prepared to handle electoral fraud than to investigate a traffic accident or to bring a thief before the court.
There were also problems with the tellers committees. One member of a tellers committee completely misunderstood his role. A voter remarked that an already filled-in ballot paper had been left in the polling booth. This member took the sheet and put it in the ballot box, claiming it a "valid vote.” Some members of a tellers committee escorted voters to the booth and, stepping inside with them, gave them "instructions.” In the same polling station, open voting, which occurs regularly in smaller settlements, took place with the voters having to mark their crosses on the desks of the tellers committee.
Despite the explicit ban, some committee members sent by the candidates and nominating organizations could not resist the temptation and informed their activists about who had not turned up to vote from the electoral roll. Voters were transported as well as influenced by cash, food, or alcohol as a matter of routine. There is no need to go into the details of why all of these things are illegal. We were also notified about the type of abuse that involves taking a photo. In this case, the voter who receives the money for their vote has to confirm that the vote is indeed cast for the required candidate. This is usually done by placing their ID card next to the filled-in ballot paper and presenting the photo to the person waiting outside who had bought their ballot.
We are generally advising to report any violation, file a complaint and, if you have the opportunity, submit an election objection. It helps the process if you can document the violations. We will continue to assist the voters in fighting against abuse. That's why we hold electoral training sessions and create guides on similar topics.