More foreigners may vote in local Czech elections

Changes to the voting law should allow EU citizens with temporary residence to vote

European Union citizens may obtain the right to vote in municipal council elections, even if they are only in the Czech Republic with a temporary residence. An amendment of electoral laws will be considered by the government on Wednesday, Aug. 24. A dispute about whether temporary residents could participate was resolved before the last elections in 2014 in court. Minister for Human Rights Jiří Dienstbier (ČSSD) has also proposed that other foreigners, not just EU citizens, should have the possibility of voting for local councils.

In the past, only EU citizens with permanent residence could participate in municipal council elections. The restriction was criticized the Ombudsman Anna Šabatová. A Slovak citizen living temporarily in Brno turned to the Regional Court of South Moravia, which in 2014 ruled in his favor and enrolled him in the list of voters. The State Election Commission then recommended that all municipal authorities should allow the participation of EU citizens with temporary residence in the Czech Republic in the October 2014 municipal elections.

Dienstbier would like the right to vote in municipal elections granted to other foreigners as well. He says that singling them out for exclusion them unfounded and discriminatory. “Foreigners with a right of permanent residence have lived in the municipality more than five years. After all this time they are usually a part of the local community and have an obvious legitimate interest in what is happening in their village,” he said, adding there is no reason to grant voting rights to citizens of Britain but not to those of the United States, which live in the Czech Republic a similar number. “The exclusion of foreigners from public life hinders their better integration into the local community and their integration in society,” Dienstbier said. The Interior Ministry disagrees with his proposal, and will deal with it on Wednesday at the government meeting.

The amendment to the election laws will also changes the procedure for collecting signatures on a petition for independent presidential candidates. The number of required signatures, according to one proposal, reduces the number from the current 50,000 to 8,000, but signatures would have to be verified. A second variant retains the higher number of signatures, but the petition would need a signature and identity card number or passport number.

Further adjustments in the law relate to voting at Czech embassies and consulates abroad. The change is because problem arose during the presidential election in 2013, due to the transition to winter time at embassies in South America, though the law had not reckoned with the local delay. The situation had to be resolved by the State Election Commission. Changing the law would prevent a similar situation.

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