Photo: BIRN.

How to fight disenfranchisement, Kosovo style

The Central Election Commission’s decision to verify postal voters through a single phone call is a blatant attempt to suppress the diaspora vote, but we don’t have to take it lying down.

While I was at work on Monday I found out that apart from the usual steps of filling out a registration form and providing identity documents, the Central Election Commission, CEC, has added one more step to the process of voter registration from abroad. 

The CEC will now also call all diaspora voters on the phone, once – ostensibly to verify their identity – before approving their registration to vote. If you don’t pick up the call, your registration is denied and you cannot vote.

The insanity of this decision (which was bizarrely supported by two members of Vetevendosje) should be immediately obvious. Approximately 40,000 people registered to vote from abroad in the last parliamentary election in 2019. The voter registration window for the current parliamentary election opens on January 13 and closes on January 21, leaving less than ten days to call tens of thousands of voters. 

There is no feasible chance that the CEC will get its act together in time to call that many people across several continents, language barriers and time zones. I highly doubt they have the staff, or even the technological capacities to complete such a task.

Denying access to the vote on the basis of a single missed call is not only arbitrary, it is a blatant attempt to disenfranchise the diaspora vote. One has to wonder why there is a sudden concern about diaspora voters misrepresenting themselves, and how a single phone call would deter a fraudulent vote. 

Unless a CEC worker personally knows me, how would they know that the “Hana Marku” who answers the phone is the right person? And how would that phone call ensure that the paper ballot that I download from the internet and send via Canada Post is not fraudulent? 

With proper funding and a plan, Kosovo’s many consulates and embassies abroad could have facilitated in-person voting and identity verification for diaspora voters years ago. Instead, during these elections they will do exactly what they normally do to help the diaspora cast their vote: nothing.

I’m not holding my breath for a phone call from the CEC. However, I can tell you what I plan on doing from Canada to try to defend my vote if this restriction remains in place:

1. When emailing my registration form and identity documents to the CEC, demand that I be called during working hours and that I be informed in advance of the time and day of the call – and not whenever a CEC worker pleases;
2. Call and email the CEC every day from January 13 to January 21 to tell them I am waiting for my phone call;
3. Keep a log every call I make to the CEC during the voter registration period and the response I receive;
4. Should I miss their phone call, demand (through emails and phone calls) that I be called again;
5. Should the voter registration window close without a phone call from the CEC, obtain detailed phone records as proof that no attempt was made to call.

Should I fail to receive the CEC phone call (and I’m sure many of us will not get this call), I think it is worth sending complaints to the Elections Complaints and Appeals Panel – the legal body that hears matters related to election and voting violations.

The complaints process is open to all voters and involves filling out a form, a summary of one’s complaint and submitting evidence (which is where the above email and phone logs will come in handy). Complaints can be joined, meaning entire diaspora families and communities may have their complaints heard together. If mass disenfranchisement is the result of this “one phone call” rule, we owe it to the CEC to flood them with complaints in return.

If the CEC is going to try to suppress the diaspora vote, we don’t have to make it easy for them. The diaspora vote is a free vote, unencumbered by cronyism and intimidation tactics. You cannot buy diaspora votes with money, and there’s no favour that can be offered to the diaspora in exchange for political support. 

Let’s show that we won’t accept these dirty tactics without a fight.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

Hana Marku is a student-at-law at an immigration and refugee law firm in Toronto. She has reported and commented on transitional justice and gender equality for Prishtina Insight, openDemocracy and Kosovo 2.0 as a researcher and journalist.

12 January 2021 - 10:27

Hana Marku

12/01/2021 - 10:27

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Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.