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As Poland prepares for a tight runoff in the country’s presidential election, some Poles living abroad complain that their vote was not counted in the first round of the contest.
Due to a combination of the restricted timetable for the election, following the chaotic postponement of a May 10 poll, and coronavirus restrictions in the countries where foreign voters were trying to cast their ballots, many fear the same will happen in the crucial second round.
Incumbent President Andrzej Duda won 41.8 percent of the vote on Sunday, while liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, representing the Civic Platform opposition party, secured 30.4 percent of the vote. If Duda loses in the second round, it will hamper the ruling Law and Justice Party’s ability to enact its nationalist platform because the president has the power to veto legislation.
After the May poll was canceled, the new election date was announced by the government on June 3, giving embassies and consulates around the world less than a month to prepare postal ballots. In several countries, including the U.S., the U.K., and Belgium, the entire vote had to be organized by mail.
That resulted in a series of problems with ballots sent too late; others were not stamped and so invalid; and others never reached their intended recipients.
“I don’t really know what I can expect from the second round, but my experience with the first round is not making me optimistic” — Alicja Małek, an artist and architect from Amsterdam
In several countries, such as Peru, Bolivia and the United Arab Emirates, the local authorities did not allow voting at all due to the coronavirus risks.
Alicja Małek, a 28-year-old artist and architect from Amsterdam, received her ballot paper last Monday. She posted it back using tracked mail to the consulate in The Hague on Tuesday.
“The letter hasn’t arrived, with no indication when it will arrive,” she said, meaning that her vote was not counted in the first round. She said that many of her friends are in a similar situation, with several not having received their ballot papers at all.
“I don’t really know what I can expect from the second round, but my experience with the first round is not making me optimistic,” Małek added.
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an intergovernmental watchdog that monitors the election worldwide, said on Monday that the speed of the election created “legal uncertainty.”
“The legislation that enabled the election to take place was adopted in haste and without adequate public debate, at odds with the commitments made by all countries of the OSCE region,” it added in a statement.
The ODIHR stressed they don’t have a mandate to monitor how the vote was carried out abroad but also said they’d raised the issue with Polish officials.
“There will also be a second round of elections, and should there be any problems, it should be possible to rectify things with this regard,” said Thomas Boserup, head of ODIHR’s special election assessment mission.
The Political Accountability Foundation, an NGO which monitored the election in Poland, has registered 160 complaints from voters abroad since Saturday afternoon.
“This is a very short election cycle and consulates, despite doing their best effort, did not have enough time and manpower to properly prepare for the election, especially in the case of countries such as the U.K or Germany where postal voting was the only way of voting,” said Zosia Lutkiewicz, the NGO’s vice president.
She added that Poles are not used to voting by mail — around 4 percent of votes came to the consulates wrongly filed, according to the official data.
A spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that the short notice for the election had prevented people from voting, adding that there had been an “unprecedented operation” to make sure foreign voters could participate.
“We haven’t registered a big scale of problems linked to delivering the ballots on time, neither with sending the ballots back by the voters,” the spokesperson said in a statement. They noted that the percentage of returned ballots was higher than in previous years: 87 percent in the U.K., 83 percent in the U.S., 92 percent in Ireland and 79 percent in France. On average, 15 percent of ballots from registered voters were not returned.