Last week, I drew up my ballot paper for the November US presidential election.
Yes, I voted for the US by correspondence. And it was easier than I expected. This was made easier for me by VoteFromAbroad.org, with which I opened an “account” to which I received a request for a correspondence ballot. Within a week, an e-mail arrived with instructions on how to proceed, ie how to open, print, fill in three attachments (ballot, security envelope and return envelope) and send by post. Registered mail to New York it cost 104 CZK.
The instructions were simple, clear and concise. There was an effort to make the process as simple as possible so that people would not be discouraged from the elections. In addition, after I mailed it off, I was surprised by a phone call from Washington to see if everything was in order. Great!
In Europe, perhaps only Malta and the Czech Republic have not yet established voting by mail. It is a matter of course everywhere else. They have electronic elections in Estonia for 15 years. And in France, the French diaspora – citizens living abroad – has been represented in parliament for three generations, even with their own member in parliament.
For twenty years in American Letters, as editor-in-chief, I sought three things that are common and necessary in a modern democratic society: the return of Czech citizenship and property to those taken away and stolen by the communist regime, and the possibility of correspondence elections. Even later, back in Prague, I still participate in meetings, conferences and negotiations concerning Czechs living abroad, whose agenda includes the issue of voting by mail. I always understood that achieving the first two would not be easy, but that the third would be so difficult, still unresolved! It’s a shame.
When apartheid fell in South Africa in the early 1990s, The New York Times published a photograph of a black woman, a South African citizen, who voted by correspondence from New York. I borrowed this photo from NYT and printed it in American papers. Today, almost 30 years later, we Czechs do not yet have the opportunity to vote by correspondence.
I no longer expected to live to see the Czech correspondence elections. Would I be wrong? It seems that there is hope, although further delays or postponements may be blamed on the coronavirus.
Two years ago, a government inter-ministerial commission was established, whose program includes support for the preparation of correspondence elections for 2021. The situation now is different in that there are no longer popular unpopular emigrants and exiles – most of them have already died – but there are thousands of Czech citizens of the new generation who live, work or study abroad. These are people who are warm to the Czech Republic, many will return home. This is evidenced by the fact that thousands of them have bank accounts in the Czech Republic, which received almost CZK 90 billion from them in 2019, while the Czech Republic – after deducting our contribution to the EU budget – received CZK 45 billion in the same year.
Today, there are two proposals for correspondence elections on the table. The government’s, which has been in government since April, and the parliament’s, which has already been approved by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. It is therefore hoped that next year Czech citizens will have the opportunity to vote by correspondence without having to appear in person at the Czech office, which in the USA, Canada and Australia, for example, has meant a journey of thousands of kilometers so far. Thus far, one can not estimate how many voters have been excluded.
The question is, will the current hopeful situation once again be killed off by the politicians ? Or will they blame failure to pass on the corona situation ?
Just who exactly is afraid of the votes of Czech voters abroad ?
English translation of the article that originally appeared in Mlada Fronta.
published: 20. 10. 2020