Last Sunday, MaltaToday revealed that the names of almost 1,000 EU voters, registered to vote in the 2004 EP elections, had been deleted from the register ahead of the European elections in June.
Judging only by the Electoral Commission’s reaction to this revelation – which was to individually inform these voters that they have until Friday 8 May to file a writ against their removal in court – it seems the gravity of this situation has not yet dawned on Evans Building in Valletta.
The same cannot be said for the European Parliament and Commission’s respective representations, which rightly deem this state of affairs as unacceptable in an EU member state. In a joint letter to the Chief Electoral Commissioner this week, both offices declared that they “consider participation in the European Elections as a crucial political right and fundamental tenet of European Citizenship, and cannot be denied simply because of a case of miscommunication.”
For this reason they urged the Electoral Commission “to do all in its power to greatly facilitate the procedures for those bona fide non-Maltese EU citizens resident in Malta to regain their right to vote.”
However, the Electoral Commission appears to have no intention of heeding this advice. Far from facilitating procedures for these disenfranchised voters, it has merely treated their case on the same basis as the inevitable objections brought forward by the main political parties with the publication of every electoral register.
Effectively, what these 960 voters are being told is that if they want to exercise their right to vote in European elections – a right which should automatically be theirs by virtue of citizenship in the EU, and not through any generosity on the part of the Electoral Commission – they will now have to fight for it in court.
Needless to add, this is a grossly unsatisfactory response. For one thing, it is to say the least odd that the Commission would individually write to each voter only now... when prior to the publication of this register on April 20, the same citizens were never informed by any means that they were expected to re-register for inclusion in the first place.
Nor did the media advertising campaign run by the Electoral Commission in January and February provide sufficient information to the effect that non-Maltese voters were expected to re-register in the first place.
But most incongruous of all, the Commission appears to have absolved itself of all responsibility, and instead tried to shift the onus onto the disenfranchised citizens themselves. And yet, Chapter 354 (Article 26) of the General Elections Act expressly obliges the Commission to send written notice to any citizen before deleting his or her name from the register... not afterwards, as was done this week.
Surely, then, it is the Electoral Commission’s duty and responsibility to atone for this error by re-registering those 960 voters of its own accord – as in fact it is empowered to do by the same General Elections Act.
The Commission should do this out of respect for both letter and spirit of the accepted norms of democracy; and also as an act of simple courtesy towards the disenfranchised voters themselves, who now face an inconvenient ordeal to reclaim what should after all be theirs by right.
But there is another reason why the Electoral Commission should take immediate action to reinstate those voters: and that is to restore its own ailing credibility, and to finally convince the electorate that its main purpose is indeed to supervise free and fair elections, without undue influence or pressure from existing political forces.
A fact that has often been overlooked in this debate is that the Electoral Commission includes representatives from both the Labour Party and Nationalist Party, to the exclusion of all other political players. From this perspective, it is not surprising that the Green Party objected most vociferously to the removal of those voters: AD knows it enjoys popularity with Malta’s European ex-pat population, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that many of these voters intended to vote Green.
It would be unfortunate in the extreme – and also deleterious to the entire democratic process – if any were to conclude that the Electoral Commission may have been influenced by the presumed voting intentions of these non-Maltese resident voters, before striking them peremptorily from the register.
But unless the Electoral Commission assumes its full legal and moral responsibilities for this blatant injustice, and takes all the necessary steps to reinstate those voters, that is the overwhelming impression many are likely to receive.