The Democracy for Development Institute (D4D), jointly with Ombudsperson and Democracy Plus (D+), have launched the paper ” Out-of-country voting: Policy Review and Practical Recommendations”, which aims to contribute to increase the participation of Diaspora in the electoral processes in Kosovo through the review of out-of-country voting practices in other states, studying the diaspora barriers to vote and the establishment of effective policies to facilitate the out-of-country voting.
Rezarta Delibashzade, program manager at Democracy for Development (D4D), during the presentation of the paper emphasized that among the key recommendations it is to allow the diaspora to have in-person application and voting as well as by submitting mail to the embassies or consulates of Kosovo abroad. In this case, the diplomatic service would serve as a collection point for applications and votes which would then be deposited in the Central Election Commission (CEC). “For members of the Diaspora this method facilitates the voting process,” she said.
Valmir Ismaili, executive director of Democracy Plus (D+), emphasized that the problem with the voting system is inclusive for all Kosovar citizens living in the diaspora, including Albanians as well as other communities. This was best noted during the last elections in the municipality of Istog when we encountered many irregularities with diaspora ballots in the mayoral race. He emphasized that it is necessary to reform the voting system from abroad in order to avoid such problems in the future and to have more democratic and fair elections.
What is persistently recommended by everyone is that Kosovo should continue to allow out-of-country voting in national elections, but that should consider abolishing their voting for local elections or this vote to be allowed only for civil servants which are abroad at the moment of the election.
The recommendations are in two ways: with the current legal framework, and with electoral reform. Recommendations with the current legal framework are: The development of the electronic application module (web-based): (1) simplifies the application; (2) eliminates data entry errors; (3) eliminates overload of e-mail; Simplification of the application form: to ask only first name, last name, personal number (if holder of Kosovo ID), residential address of residence abroad, contact information and signature; Identification code for citizens residing abroad; Sending envelopes in a collective manner: one envelope per family to reduce the cost. Extra verification: invoice, certificate; improving the quality of information.
While electoral reform recommendations are: Submission of applications/ votes by mail in Kosovo embassies and consulates: Mail reaches faster/safely, the cost burden for the state; Voting only with RKS documents: Only those who have documents issued by RKS are allowed to vote; Extension of the ballot acceptance deadline: If there is the same electoral system and the same counting procedures, the time limit can be extended for the ballot papers to be received up to 5-7 days after the election day; Physical Voting in Embassies and Consulates: According to the IDEA, physical voting is practiced by 50 countries around the world. Issues of integrity, organization, cost are important, but to start with a pilot project.
According to the findings in the paper “Out-of-country voting: Policy Review and Practical Recommendations”, diaspora representation through reserved seats is not a practice Kosovo can follow in a short term because it would require changes to the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo and election laws, and this could hardly pass in the Assembly of Kosovo at this period.
It is also recommended that the Central Election Commission (CEC) continues to be the responsible institution for registering out-of-country voters and processing their applications to vote; out-of-country voters should continue to have different methods for application, by mail, fax or e-mail. The CEC should also consider developing an electronic platform for easier and faster voter registration, which can then be disseminated also by other institutions such as the Ministry of Diaspora, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.