The Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) Marcin Wiącek sent a letter to the National Electoral Commission (PKW) regarding the counting of votes in electoral districts established abroad. In his opinion, counting votes cast in the elections before determining the referendum result could reduce the risk of the vote being considered null and void due to failure to obtain results within 24 hours.
The Ombudsman asked the chairman of the National Electoral Commission, Sylwester Marciniak, to accept the comments and take a position on the guidelines for district electoral commissions established abroad and on Polish sea vessels. The announcement published on the Ombudsman’s website was accompanied by a letter addressed to the National Electoral Commission. The date on it is October 7.
Ombudsman on counting votes abroad
Marcin Wiącek pointed out that in accordance with the resolution of the National Electoral Commission of October 3 this year, district electoral commissions are to simultaneously carry out activities aimed at determining the vote result for both elections to the Sejm and Senate of the Republic of Poland, as well as for referendums – which is reflected in the detailed rules for completing subsequent points of the minutes of the committee’s activities. According to the guidelines, the final protocols of voting in elections to the Sejm, in elections to the Senate and in the referendum are to be prepared after the results of all three votes are determined.
“The resolution is related to Article 90(1) of the Act of March 14, 2003 on the national referendum, which regulates the principles of organizing voting in the event of ordering parliamentary elections and a national referendum on the same day. However, the principles of committee proceedings adopted in the NEC resolution may increase the risk that the voting results in some foreign voting circuits will not be obtained within 24 hours,” the Ombudsman emphasized.
Wiącek cited the National Electoral Commission’s information from September 18 this year, which shows that in some foreign voting districts in the 2019 parliamentary elections, there were cases where the protocols were sent 14-15 hours after the end of voting. “Without conducting an appropriate simulation, it is not possible to accurately calculate the ratio of the time needed to count votes from referendum cards in relation to the time needed to count votes from ballots in elections to the Sejm and Senate. However, assuming that the three activities indicated require a similar amount of time, It can be predicted that the total time may be up to 22 hours, which is dangerously close to the statutory time limit,” the spokesman noted.
The Ombudsman explained that in accordance with Art. 26 section 2 of the Act on the National Referendum: “Voting results and voting records from precincts established abroad and on Polish sea vessels are submitted to the electoral commissioner responsible for the capital city of Warsaw.” As he emphasized, unlike voting in elections, “there is no provision in this act that would stipulate that if the commission does not obtain the results of the referendum vote within 24 hours of the end of the vote, the vote is considered null and void.”
“The resolution of the National Electoral Commission of October 3, 2023 does not take into account this circumstance. Meanwhile, there are no statutory obstacles to which the results of voting in the referendum could not be determined and recorded after the results of voting in the elections were determined and recorded. Such a sequence of activities of electoral commissions would reduce the risk of not obtaining results of voting in the elections within 24 hours of the end of voting,” he said Marcin Wiącek.
The Civic Coalition’s candidates for parliament drew attention to a similar problem Adam Bodnar and Aleksander Pociej, who on Sunday informed about two applications submitted to the National Electoral Commission regarding the voting of the Polish diaspora.
The Ombudsman asked the National Electoral Commission to refer to these comments and explain: whether the current wording of the indicated resolution of the National Electoral Commission is the optimal solution from the point of view of the need to minimize the likelihood of a situation in which, even in some foreign districts, voting in the elections could be considered null and void, and whether a solution was considered that would that the results of voting in the elections would be determined and recorded first, and the results of voting in the referendum would be determined and recorded after the final content of the voting protocols in the elections had been prepared.
Main photo source: Marcin Obara/PAP