Guest post by Róbert László, election expert of Political Capital
It was suspected before the 2018 general elections that some Hungarian nationals residing abroad acquired a residential address in Hungary in order to vote not only for a party list, but for candidates in constituencies. On 22 March 2018, the Hungarian Telegraphic Office reported that Hungarian and Romanian authorities had agreed to keep open 10 temporary border crossings, usually only open for traffic on Saturdays, on the day of the Hungarian general elections, 8 April 2018. At that time, the news coverage received moderate attention from the public. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó justified the decision as follows: “We expect that large numbers of Hungarians from across the borders will turn up for the elections. We want the next Parliament to reflect the political will of Hungarians all around the world.”
This was an odd justification, considering that Hungarian nationals abroad who do not have a residential address in Hungary have no reason to cross the Hungarian-Romanian border on election day, since they can vote by letter. An exception to the letter-vote is if those residing abroad also have a Hungarian residential address, and thus they are entitled to vote not only for a party list, but for a candidate in their constituency. Further, several cases (such as this and this) have been uncovered by the media, which confirmed the suspicions of election tourism.
What has been inestimable, however, is just how many people have been affected. In order to assess the problem, we would require a data base that shows the change in the number of Hungarian citizens with residential address at all Hungarian settlements, month by month, for the past few years. It is completely unsurprising that no government office will publish this kind of time series data. We may, of course, compare the number of citizens with a right to vote in 2014 and 2018, but after 4 years, even remarkable differences could have a number of legitimate explanations. In order to get closer to the fraud, we need to see when uncommon changes, which cannot be explained by natural demographic and migration processes, occurred at each settlement.
That is why PC and HCLU jointly contacted the Ministry of Interior’s Undersecretary of State Responsible for Keeping Registers with a data request for before the 2018 elections; we requested the release of residential address registration data for the previous 2 years (precisely from 5 January 2016 to 5 April 2018), broken down by month, in order to see if there had been a significant jump in the number of voters and if so, when and where. As we did not receive the requested data, HCLU filed a lawsuit and won the case in the first instance in spring, and in the second instance in autumn.
As soon as the state fulfils its obligation of data disclosure, we will start analysing the data, as a result of which, even if we do not know the exact figures, we will be able to tell the maximum number of citizens who might have registered an address for the purposes of election fraud. Naturally, we will compare the data with municipal election results, too.