Massive ballot rigging confirmed
The nongovernmental organizations Oživení, Anticorruption Endowment (NFPK), Transparency International and Naši politici present serious findings in evidence of manipulations in the course of this year’s elections. The foundation stone of democracy—freedom of choice—was tampered with and vote buying emerged as a profitable business. Ballot rigging episodes are reported mainly from North Bohemia and North Moravia. We had representatives in all these regions and the developments were closely monitored. We also propose specific legislative measures to prevent such illegal activities.
Naši politici, Transparency International and Oživení had emissaries in Kadaň and Bílina. In Bílina, these NGOs gathered operative intelligence about plans to hatch up a corruption network over a long time. Using hidden recording equipment, their helpers successfully documented corruption activities ranging from organizational methods to voter busing and the payment of bribes. Additional evidence was secured in the form of pre-filled ballot cards, Facebook messages offering prices, and a written record on unusual ways to register new voters.
“We possess direct evidence about the criminal activities of a person involved in ballot rigging. It is obvious he neither worked alone nor orchestrated this operation. It is up to the bodies participating in criminal proceedings to put their finger on the subject behind this corrupt conduct. We will be happy to provide all our findings and due coordination,” says Michal Voda, analyst of the association, Naši politici.
In Kadaň, vote buying was confirmed by several sources (vote business middlemen, witnesses to the payment of rewards, and friends and relatives of the persons being bribed). Voters from part of Prunéřov Municipality were fetched to the polling stations by cab drivers wielding “attendance sheets” and cashed in their rewards. This scenario was authenticated by local residence and one of the cab drivers. Ballot rigging is further evidenced by a 70 percent increase in the election turnout in several key election districts.
“Our monitors contacted a person who brokered these transactions this year and confirmed the practice, although this time no votes could be purchased on Election Day,” reports Milan Eibl, analyst for Transparency International.
Elections in Český Těšín were monitored by activists of the Anticorruption Endowment and Oživení. There, votes were bought in favour of ČSSD or SOS Český Těšín. This practice is evidenced by a range of proofs and eyewitness accounts, including communication in the social networks, requests and offers of rewards for votes, offers of 500 CZK per vote, etc. “Vote buyers critically depended on a list of voters who were previously prepared to sell their votes. Vote buyers often contacted them in person,” notes Janusz Konieczny, analyst of the Anticorruption Endowment.
We have obtained quite specific evidence about vote buying being organized in a barroom on Svibice Housing Estate, in favour of the ČSSD. The witness said 500 CZK had been offered in exchange for the votes of 100-500 citizens. “In total, 100,000 CZK were said to be put aside for bribes. The witness said she had been present when the payments were made. Therefore we referred the case to the police,” reports Lukáš Landa from Oživení.
In addition to Český Těšín, Oživení also mapped the situation in Horní Jiřetín, Ústí nad Labem and Opava. The area of Horní Jiřetín was monitored because of suspected upgrading of the size of its population. According to our findings, the municipality had several dozen permanent residents registered before the previous local elections, many of whom moved out immediately after Election Day. “We have information that up to 10,000 CZK may have been paid to each of the persons thus registered,” says Lukáš Landa from Oživení. “We ascertained that the same persons, who registered for permanent residence in this municipality the last time, renewed their registrations this year. However, we are not able to estimate actual numbers,” Landa explains.
From Mojžíř near Ústí nad Labem we have a testimony by the chairperson of the election commission about the use, or rather abuse, of needy citizens in order to increase the number of votes cast in favour of a specific party (No. 13 in this case). Number 13 was assigned for the Ústí nad Labem city council elections to the ODS. Other sources said a vote was bought for 200 CZK. Although the respective election commission immediately reported the case to the Police of the Czech Republic, the police department concluded, during the election weekend, that no illegal conduct had happened. “Such a swift police action is surprising, to tell the least, especially when the key witnesses in this case were busy in the election commission on Election Day and hardly could visit the police to ‘substantiate their evidence’,” observes Petra Bielinová, a lawyer for Oživení.
In Opava, vote procurement became a profitable business even for third persons. In one case, two persons offered paid vote procurement. “We dispatched our man to check the information and he reported back that a political leader was prepared to pay 450 CZK per vote. The deal was to have been formally called an advertising campaign. We don’t know if it was an offer designed to rig the vote or a swindle; anyway it could be criminal, and we referred the case to the police,” says Lukáš Landa from Oživení.
Brno was also the scene of hardly believable vote buying practices. Witnesses report that voters wore fancy bracelets that were free admission to a party at Brno’s Musilka Club with refreshments and entertainment for free. Such voters were escorted by “election coordinators” who instructed them how to vote. “The ‘paid’ voters in Brno mostly had no idea who they had cast their votes for, and did not make it a secret that it was because they wished to go to Musilka afterwards,” adds Janusz Konieczny.
Citizens report that electoral fraud occurred also in Prague 10, namely in the Centre for Social and Nursing Assistance in Sámova Street, where pre-filled ballot cards were distributed. There was a pre-ticked box for the party, Nezávislí pro Prahu 10 – hnutí pro lepší desítku and indicating a preferential vote in favour of ODS candidate Ing. Richard Černý. “Thanks to the instructions posted on the bezkorupce.cz website by Oživení, citizens without direct liaison to NGOs could easily share in the election monitoring with telephone support,” Petra Bielinová explains.
It is very difficult to prove the crime of vote buying, therefore all our organizations also press for amendments to the Criminal Code. Concrete proposals are listed in the annex below.
Petra Bielinová (Oživení), Lawyer, 605 54 34 19
Lukáš Landa (Oživení) Janusz Konieczny (Anticorruption Endowment)
Petr Leyer (Transparency International) Michal Voda (Naši politici)
Annex – Legal Aspects
1 – Vote buying
Vote buying is made easier by the present diction of electoral laws, according to which ballot papers are distributed to voters ahead of Election Day. If ballot papers were provided to voters at the polling station, vote vendors would not be able to present voters with doctored sheets.
Police basically do not prosecute vote buyers. According to our data, only one person has been prosecuted in the Czech Republic to date, which fact may coincide with both the material and legal definition of crime and the minimal chance of the police to obtain material evidence through legal channels.
Any offers or provision of material or non-material rewards in regard of elections, including both the attendance or non-attendance in elections and any voting in elections, should be a criminal act. Therefore, the merits of a crime should be rendered devoid of the section that requires the voiding of only the vote or voting act performed in conflict with the independent expression of the will of the voter. Proving a change of the voter’s will is at variance with the constitutionally guaranteed right of secret ballot, regardless of the practical problems with asserting such proofs.
The minimal number of persons prosecuted in connection with vote buying in the past years might be ascribed to the police having a limited scope for providing relevant evidence in line with the Criminal Code; in particular, police cannot issue eavesdropping instructions or use a police agent. However, the societal implications of the crime of obstruction of elections are quite considerable. The language of the Criminal Code ought to enable the police, if participating in criminal proceedings concerning the criminal act of obstructing the preparation and course of an election, to operatively employ search techniques and telecommunication wiretaps in at least the same extent as in the cases involving the accepting of bribe, bribery or indirect bribery.
2 – Voter migration
Purposeful moving of voters as a second way of influencing election results was not so massively registered this year as four years ago. Nevertheless, the NFPK, Oživení, TI and Naši politici recommend that the lawmakers attend to this issue and amend the exercise of the right to vote in municipal elections with a view to the voter’s registered domicile so as to prevent such manipulations. One solution rests in adjusting the active voting right to the length of the voter’s residential status e.g.to six months, as recommended by the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters.
3 – Fresh election phenomenon
In all cases when fresh elections or fresh voting is ordered because of a breach of the election law, it is currently not possible to penalize the election parties which have participated in the manipulation of the election outcomes. Therefore the election laws should standardize on the permissible limits of accepting the conduct of the election parties or independent candidates. Prohibited action should encompass not only vote buying or voter bussing, but also other expressions of dishonest and dishonourable conduct of the election campaign, such as the abuse of media or town hall press in promoting or smearing candidates or election partiers. The candidate, who has grossly violated the terms of the electoral process, should lose his mandate and possibly also his passive voting rights for a defined period of time.