Czech Police investigate allegations of vote-buying in northern Bohemia
Suspicions have arisen once again in northern Bohemia that the upcoming regional elections there will involve vote-buying, and as is traditional, the allegations concern excluded localities such as the Janov housing estate in Litvínov or the Krásné Březno and Neštěmice quarters of Ústí nad Labem. The offering price for casting a ballot for a particular candidate has reportedly gone up; whereas in the past a couple of hundred crowns would do, today the ballot traffickers are offering CZK 1 000 [EUR 37].
"The same old people are again preparing to engage in their dishonest practice of buying votes from the most impoverished," said Petr Globočník in a video published on Facebook. He is a social worker at Janov, vice-chair of the Green Party, and a candidate himself for the Ústecký Regional Assembly.
Globočník's allegations are confirmed by other testimonies given to the investigative news website HlídacíPes.org in the ghettos of northern Bohemia. While during previous elections CZK 400 [EUR 15] was offered to people for their votes, the price has risen to CZK 1 000 [EUR 37] this year.
The allegation is documented in a letter sent to police by the mayor of the Neštěmice municipal department in Ústí nad Labem, Yveta Tomková, who is also running for a regional post. "Ahead of the regional elections we are beginning to receive information about vote-buying," she wrote to the local chief of the Czech Police department in Neštěmice.
"Specifically, a registrar who was delivering candidate lists was contacted by an ethnic Romani man with the information that a thousand crowns is allegedly being paid for votes," the letter said. The mayor asked police to increase their surveillance of polling places in the excluded locality of Mojžíř and in Neštěmice.
Czech Police: We will investigate
In response to a query from HlídacíPes.org, the police in northern Bohemia said that while they have not yet received information about vote-buying, they promise to investigate. "At this moment we do not have any information about possible influencing of the elections. Your information about such possible preparations has been handed over for investigation," said Jana Slámová, spokesperson for the police administration in northern Bohemia.
Slámová added that police officers will especially be inspecting the smooth course of the elections in the vicinity of polling places. "We have based our adopted measures on our experiences from previous elections and we are focusing the service's deployment to places where vote-buying was recorded in the past," she said.
In recent years, vote-buying has taken place in several municipalities nationwide, such as Český Těšín, Jirkov u Chomutova, Krukpa, Most and Roudnice nad Labem. The vast majority of such transgressions have happened in northern Bohemia.
After the local elections in 2014, the localities of Bílina and Chomutov were added to that list. In the case of Bílina, the vote-buying was documented by audio and video recordings made by nonprofit organizations, while in the case of Chomutov a court later considered the testimonies of several persons, newspaper articles, amateur videos, and several photographs capturing a gathering of Romani citizens to be essential evidence.
However, that evidence was not the main reason the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem eventually declared the electoral results invalid. What was absolutely essential was the fact that detailed inspection of the ballots cast confirmed the initial information provided by witnesses that votes had been bought for this or that party in a given locality.
Indications that vote-buying has happened include the following:
- Crowds of people near a polling station.
- Crowds of people in a restaurant near a polling station.
- The same automobile repeatedly transporting voters to a polling place.
- Somebody giving cash to somebody else in a car, in a restaurant, on the street, etc.
- The same individual repeatedly accompanying different voters to polling places.
- Ballots being cast that have already been filled out prior to the voter coming to the polls.
- Voters frequently make no secret of the fact that they sold their vote.
Is vote-buying a crime?
The documented vote-buying during the local elections in 2010 (especially in Český Těšín and Krupka) led to an amendment to the Criminal Code taking effect on 14 November 2011 introducing the definition of the grounds for suspecting commission of the crime of obstructing the preparation and conduct of elections and referendums: "whosoever, in assocation with the execution of the right to vote in an election or referendum, offers or promises a financial, material, or other similar benefit in order to influence somebody to cast their vote in contravention of expressing their will independently shall be punished with a prison sentence of between six months and three years."
Source: Analysis by the NGO Oživení (Revival)
Vote-buying in the past
Český Těšín (2010, 2014, 20 000 voters)
In 2010, one of the pieces of evidence of vote-buying submitted to the Ostrava Regional Court was a social media advertisement offering voters CZK 300 [EUR 11] for their vote and another CZK 200 [EUR 7.50] for each other potential voter recommended. Those interested in the money were told to send an email to registraceSOS@email.cz from which they would receive more instructions about where to go and how to proceed.
The condition for being paid was that the voter be a permanent resident of Český Těšín and casting a ballot in the local elections. The court also based its decision on the records of the Český Těšín Municipal Police, especially from their interrogations of many witnesses.
Some witnesses had noticed increased movement by six specific vehicles when the polls were open. It was documented that the vehicles in question had been transporting local homeless people and ethnic Romani citizens to several polling places.
Several citizens testified to the court as to how they had been offered a financial gratuity to cast their vote for the party called SOS PRO ČESKÝ TĚŠÍN. Some of those witnesses said they actually cast their ballots as instructed and were paid.
There are also indications that vote-buying happened in this same town during the 2014 elections. During the local balloting on Saturday 11 October 2014, nonprofit organizations recorded the testimonies of indidividuals who witnessed CZK 500 [EUR 18] being paid per vote in a local bar, a disbursal eventually totalling CZK 100 000 [EUR 3,685].
Brno-sever (2014, 35 000 voters)
The Brno Regional Court (file number 67 A 13/2014) declared the election in the Brno-sever voting precinct invalid as well. In that case the court heard many witnesses who testified that persons of Romani origin had been recruited to vote for the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), specifically for Mayor Hakl, the lead candidate.
In exchange for casting votes for that party, the Roma received a blue bracelet entitling them to entry to entertainment happening at a venue known as "Musilka" and to unrestricted consumption of refreshments there. It was documented that the event was actually held and that several hundred ethnic Romani citizens attended, the vast majority of whom were wearing the blue bracelets.
Anybody without a bracelet had to buy their own refreshments at that event. The existence of so-called "election coordinators", people moving around in the immediate vicinity of polling places, was also documented.
According to the court, this activity attained the intensity required to constitute disruption of the elections because the ČSSD would not have won a sixth seat on the local assembly if its overall electoral gain had been 700 votes less, which corresponds to 20 ballots (each ballot featuring the opportunity to choose 35 candidates). The testimonies of several members of the voting commission stated that at least 200 voters participated in the election who had not customarily participated in the past, who otherwise take no interest in politics, who were accompanied to the polling place by the so-called election coordinators, who asked where the blue bracelets would be distributed, or who shouted that "they were going to vote number one, they were going to vote for Hakl".
Bílina (2014, 12 000 voters)
What essentially drove the detailed review of the documentation of Bílina's local election were credible indications that vote-buying actually had happened there, namely, evidence provided by the audio and video recordings taken by nonprofit organizations. Those recordings, however, were not the main reason the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem declared the election in Bílina invalid.
What was absolutely essential was the fact that detailed inspection of the ballots cast confirmed the initial information that vote-buying for the Bílinští sociální demokraté (Bílina Social Democrats) and several other candidates from the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) and the Nezávislí pro Bílinu (Independents for Bílina) had happened in that locality. Among those ballots were a larger number where the preferential votes cast across the political parties were identical.
Moreover, those ballots had been filled out by just two individuals, according to handwriting analysis. The election in Bílina had to be repeated because the number of votes on the "suspicious" ballots was such that without them, the Bílina Social Democrats would not have won a fifth seat on the local assembly.
Chomutov (2014, 39 000 voters)
The 2014 local election also had to be repeated in Chomutov. In that case the court decided to review the ballot documentation in detail on the basis of the reliable testimony of several persons, newspaper articles, amateur videos and several photographs capturing small groups of Romani citizens in front of the Roxy discotheque.
Vote-buying there happened by Romani voters being "recruited" at the discotheque. Those citizens were offered a bribe of CZK 400 [EUR 15] in exchange for casting their vote a certain way.
The voters were given pre-completed candidate lists for the ČSSD and then were transported to different voting precincts according to their registered addresses. However, that evidence was not the main reason the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem ultimately invalidated the election.
What was absolutely essential to that decision was the fact that a detailed inspection of the ballots cast confirmed the initial information of the witnesses that votes had been bought in that locality for several ČSSD candidates. A larger amount of ballots were found with identical preferential votes marked for several ČSSD candidates, ballots that had been filled out by just two individuals, according to handwriting analysis.
The election had to be repeated because the number of "suspicious" ballots was such that without them at least one ČSSD candidate might not have been elected. Without those ballots, one of the candidates would not have won enough preferential votes and a different ČSSD candidate who was in a better position on the list would have been elected instead.
Krupka (2010, 11 000 votes)
In a proceedings before the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem (file number 15 A 92/2010) it was proven that voters in the town of Krupka had been transported in an organized way to polling places in different precincts and received a specific amount of money from the "ČSNS a NK – Šance pro město" group to cast their ballots in its favor; the court considered the deciding evidence to be video recordings made by Czech Television and the Municipal Police documenting that people were assembling in the parking lot of a housing estate in the upper part of the town and being transported in an organized way to the polling places by four specific vehicles. The vehicles appear repeatedly in the footage, always being driven away by certain individuals and, after a definite amount of time, re-arriving, again being driven by those same individuals.
Many witnesses also described details of communications with representatives of the party that offered selected persons financial gratuities for their aid in securing votes. Lastly, other witnesses testified that financial offers were made to them to cast their ballots for a specific party.
Suspicions of vote-buying in Krupka also accompanied two elections in 2011 that had to be repeated. The outcome of the repeated elections was also brought to trial, but the intensity of the evidence of vote-buying submitted for the repeated elections was weaker than it had been for the first election.
The courts' explanations of their verdicts inspire not just the lawyers who argue such cases, but also those who commit vote-buying, who subsequently refine their tactics. It would, therefore, be a very complex undertaking to prosecute the same persons for repeatedly committing this crime.
First published in Czech for the Institute of Independent Journalism (Ústav nezávislé žurnalistiky).
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