Annul the State Election Commission’s unconstitutional instructions

The Centre for Democratic Transition (CDT) calls on the Constitutional Court to react urgently and annul part of the instructions issued by the State Election Commission (SEC) which, contrary to the Constitution, deny citizens their right to vote and discriminate against them. We also call on the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms of Montenegro to react and initiate proceedings to protect against the discrimination against citizens.

Last night, the SEC came out with a document in which it strongly recommends that we disinfect our hands, wear a mask, and keep a safe physical distance. In other words, after a month of discussions and deliberations, the SEC merely told us what we have already known for a long time.

The SEC was tasked with regulating the way in which sick persons, and those in mandatory self-isolation or quarantine, would be enabled to vote. It has been decided to allow voting for all those in self-isolation, regardless of whether they are positive or negative for coronavirus, but the institution announced to be “unable to accommodate” the needs of people in hospital care or quarantine.

However, the right to vote is not a service provided by the SEC, but a constitutional and legal right of every citizen. The law clearly stipulates that voters who, due to old age, disability, hospital or home care, are unable to vote at the polling station where they are registered in the voter register extract, but wish to do so, may cast their vote by letter. This procedure must not discriminate against COVID-19 patients, nor should the right to vote be illegally restricted by the introduction of residence requirements through bylaws.

State institutions do not often publicly acknowledge their unconstitutional behaviour, so we believe it goes without saying that the Constitutional Court will react ex officio. And hopefully not in October or November, but urgently! A similar act of the election authority in the neighbouring Croatia elicited the warning by their Constitutional Court that Croatian citizens suffering from COVID-19 “are entitled to demand the exercise of their right to vote under the rules on voting outside polling stations which are adapted to the potential danger of infection, and aligned with the demands on health safety and protection of other participants in the election process.”

The CDT urged for the timely preparation of this document as early as June 30, and the first draft of the recommendations was submitted by the Institute of Public Health on July 8. This version included epidemiological recommendations for the collection of signatures and the election campaigns, but also more detailed measures for conducting the voting proceedings on the election day.

While we were waiting for the SEC to edit and adopt this document, the signatures were collected and the lists submitted, so that this section became unnecessary. In addition, the SEC decided to completely leave out the recommendations related to the conducting of political campaigns, not considering them part of their competencies (and even though no other body recognizes them as such).

Consequently, the opposition parties’ campaigns moved online because of the ban of public gatherings, while the Government campaign thrives through the actions of its high officials and the everyday pseudo-events that are incidentally not banned. As a reminder to all incompetent bodies, campaigning is one of the key elements of the election process, and must be equal for all.

For “healthy” voters, the voting itself comes down to the exercise of personal responsibility – keeping a safe distance, wearing a mask, disinfecting hands. The recommendations do not guarantee that the distance will be respected, the premises ventilated, the surfaces regularly disinfected, not even that hundreds of people will not have to handle the same ballpoint pen. In conclusion, the state does not seem to have any special interest in the professional organization of elections in the conditions of the coronavirus pandemics.

Dragan Koprivica, Executive Director of the CDT