Gerrymandering violates the right to vote

The Hungarian government is influencing the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections with gerrymandering. The parliamentary majority has prevented the revision of constituency boundaries despite significant changes in the population over the past few years. The current constituency boundaries will lead to a violation of the right to equal suffrage because almost 1,000,000 voters will have significantly weaker voting rights than the average voter. As the Constitutional Court has refused to provide protection against this violation of the right to free elections, Hungary Free and Fair has escalated the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Pest County no. 5
Dunakeszi

Hungarian voters will elect a new parliament in spring 2022. Of the 199 seats, 106 are to be elected in single-member constituencies. As the boundaries of these constituencies were defined in 2011 by an act of legislation, any changes will require a two-thirds majority.

International election observers recommended a periodic review of constituency boundaries by an independent commission to account for population changes in the parliamentary elections in 2014. Four years later, at the next election, they observed five constituencies that exceeded the 15% deviation allowed by law and a further 17 that deviated from the national average by more than 10%. In August 2020 the National Election Office (NEO) observed deviations of more than 20% in six constituencies.

In view of these developments the president of the NEO published a proposal for revising the electoral boundaries, and her proposal was submitted to the parliament as draft legislation in November 2020 (see draft legislation no. T/13911). The parliamentary majority, however, has refused to put the draft legislation on the parliament’s agenda.

The population changes this year are further increasing the deviations. According to the data published by the NEO, deviations of more than 20% have been observed in seven constituencies. Furthermore, the deviation exceeded 15% in five constituencies. (see ANNEX below)

These established facts make it apparent that the constituencies are currently unequal and differ significantly in terms of population. This situation will infringe the principle of equal suffrage in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Approximately 1,000,000 voters (i.e., 12% of all registered voters) will have a significantly weaker voting right than the average voter. The amount of the affected voters and the number of affected seats are capable of altering the entire result of the next parliamentary elections and not merely the results in the affected constituencies.

In a decision dated 28 May 2021 the Constitutional Court refused to provide protection against this violation of the right to free elections. The judges ignored the guidelines of the Venice Commission’s Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters (see CDL-STD(2003)034) and the recommendations by the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Missions in their final reports of 2014 and 2018. (see References below)

Considering this situation, Hungary Free and Fair has supported a voter lodging an application with the European Court of Human Rights. We are asking the ECHR to provide protection against the Hungarian government’s violation of the right to free elections.

The application was delivered to the court on November 18, 2021.

RR599098911


ANNEX

Information on the number of registered voters by the National Election Office
January 1, 2021

Total number of voters domiciled in Hungary: 7,794,120

Total number of Single-member constituencies: 106

The national arithmetic mean of voters in single-member constituencies: 73,529

Total number of voters with significantly weaker voting right than the average voter: 967,965 (i.e.~12.4%)

https://www.valasztas.hu/telepulesek-lakossag-es-valasztopolgarszama


REFERENCES

OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report
Warsaw, 11 July 2014

Recommendation no. 8.

Legislation should foresee periodic review of constituency boundaries by an independent commission to account for population changes. When constituency boundaries are redefined, it should be done in a transparent, impartial and inclusive manner. Concrete constituency boundaries should not be enshrined in cardinal laws that require a two-thirds majority to amend and consideration should be given to introducing a formula that would allow flexibility in adjusting boundaries.

https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/hungary/121098

OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report
Warsaw, 27 June 2018

Recommendation no. 10.

To respect the principle of equal suffrage, constituency delimitation should be reviewed with the aim of bringing existing deviations in line with international good practice. A periodic review of constituency boundaries in a transparent, impartial and inclusive manner by an independent body should be considered.

https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/hungary/385959

Venice Commission’s Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters
CDL-STD(2003)034

Section I.2.2

The permissible departure from the norm should not be more than 10 per cent and should certainly not exceed 15 per cent, except in special circumstances.

https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/CDL-STD(2003)034-e.aspx

1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document

Paragraph 7.3 commits participating States to “guarantee universal and equal suffrage to adult citizens”.

https://www.osce.org/de/odihr/elections/14304

1999 OSCE Istanbul Document

Paragraph 25 commits participating States to “conduct free and fair elections in accordance with OSCE commitments, in particular the Copenhagen Document 1990” and also “to follow up promptly the ODIHR’s election assessment and recommendations”.

https://www.osce.org/de/mc/39571

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