Developing accurate voters’ lists in transitional democracies
Workshop, Bucharest, 9 June 2010
Arnis Cimdars
Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Latvia

 

Latvia: Country reports on “How to prepare Voters’ lists”

There are two systems of voters’ registration in Latvia and respectively two way how to develop voters’ lists.

The first one is inherited historically from the first independent Republic of Latvia that existed between two World wars. Nowadays this system is applied for Parliamentary elections and referenda in Latvia. According to it there are no any previously prepared Voters’ lists, and voters are registered right on the Election day at polling stations. So, polling station commissions make voters’ list by writing down a voter’s data (name, surname and personal identity number) consecutively i.e. just in sequence that voters come to vote. The principle ‘One Person, One Vote’ is ensured by making a stamp in voter’s passport. As the positive points of this system we can mention:

  1. the voter’s right to vote in any constituency and in any polling station in Latvia or abroad irrespective of the voter’s place of residence or registered address;
  2. since voters lists are filled in sequentally, the first stage of vote counting procedure is more easier. A polling station commission don’t have to count the number of voters on the each page of voters’ list. 

At the same time there are some essential weaknesses of this system:

  1. the system require a unified personal document for each voter, in Latvia it is a citizen’s passport;
  2. it doesn’t ensure excluding disenfranchised persons from voting. At present there is only one group of disenfranchised citizens in Latvia. They are persons who have been adjudged incompetent by a court. Since there is no any mark about disenfranchisement in the person’s passport, we cannot exclude the possibility that a disenfranchised person could vote on Election Day;
  3. as well, voting of persons who not Latvian citizens anymore, but steel keep the Latvian citizens passport is still possible;
  4. the procedure for applying for postal voting is more difficult because of provisions to show or send a voter’s passport to a Latvian mission abroad which eligible to receive such application.
  5. a probability of possible provocations or frames-up is rather high, when some fraudsters (cheats, dishonest persons) can try to vote more than one time (if a stamp in passport has not been made because of carelessness or tiredness of a polling station commission’s member). 

But, despite everything this system is very popular in Latvian society that valuates the possibility to vote at any polling station very high. The second system that is applied for the EP elections and local elections was introduced in Latvia in 2004 and it provides for the previously centrally prepared voters’ list. The system is based on the Voters Register that is a uniform central electronic system of voters’ registration.

The data included in the Register are processed and the Register is maintained by the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs of the Ministry of Interior. The Voters Register is made on the data of the Population Register of Latvia. All Latvian citizens who have reached the age of 18 by Election Day and aren’t legally incompetent are listed into the Voters Register. The process of formation of the Voters Register starts 120 days before elections and the information are updated up to the 5th day before elections accordingly to the latest information about voters who has newly gained or lost the right to vote.

Lists of voters are created in cooperation between the Central Election Commission, local authorities and the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs. Although, voters are co-responsible for the accuracy of voters lists too. Because of such delegation of responsibility to voters there are no any complaint on the quality of voters’ list on the Election Day.

Initially each voter is registered to a particular polling station in accordance with one’s registered residence. So, a voter may vote only at a certain polling station. Then, not later than 70 days before elections a letter is send by post to each voters containing information on the polling station in the electoral roll of which this voter has been included. After that it is responsibility of a voter to change previously registered polling station to more accessible or convenient. As well, if a voter has not received such letter, he or she is responsible for applying to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs to put the situation right.

According to the Voters Register Law a voter can apply for changing previously registered polling station (or to correct any other data) not later than 25 days before election. After that no any changes can be made and this voter will be able to vote only at the previously appointed polling station, or not to vote at all. On the one hand seems such rule restricts the right to vote, but on the other hand it helps to ensure fair elections, because doesn’t allow to change voters lists at the last minute or to add a voter into the printed out list.

As for the citizens of other states of the European Union, they are included into the Latvian Voters Register (and accordingly to voters’ lists) if they have submitted a respective written application to the Central Election Commission. Undoubted strengths of this system are:

more accurate voters lists (because of direct data transmission from the Population Register to the Voters Register, taking into account that in Latvia the Population Register is a dynamic centralized electronic resource of good quality, election managers always have up-to-date information);

  1. more simple order of applying for postal voting. 

We consider the second system (the Voters’ Register system) as more advanced and prospective one for the two main reasons:

  1. Voters’ lists are accurate and sure, and
  2. No complains on voters’ lists on the Election Day. 

 The following data on a voter are included on the Register:

  1. Identity No.;
  2. voter code;
  3. given name(s);
  4. surname;
  5. citizenship;
  6. data on document identifying the person:
    1. type of document,
    2. series and number,
    3. date of issue,
    4. expiry date,
    5. issuing country and issuing authority;
  7. residential address;
  8. address in foreign country, at which documents for voting by mail should be sent if the voter has applied for voting by mail;
  9. data on voting station:
    1. number,
    2. address;
  10. ordinal number in voters’ list of the voting station;
  11. data on inclusion into or exclusion from the Register 

The data shown in a printed version of Voters’ lists that are accessible at polling stations are accentuated with bold.