In Hungary the elections are carried out by Vote Counting Committees consisting of counting officers.
On election day (parliamentary elections, municipal elections and referendums alike) in Hungary we vote in a very old-fashioned and not very sustainable way. The ballots are on paper with the alternatives (parties, representatives, questions) listed and you have to use a pen to mark your vote. This of course requires a good number of personnel not just to oversee the voting procedure, but to do all the paperwork it entails (registering the voters, counting the ballots, keeping a record of all the happenings of the day).
For the first time this year I enlisted to be a counting officer. Apparently in the past few elections Vote Counting Committees in many locations (mainly smaller towns and villages in the countryside) were short on staff. There are elected, paid members of the Committee, but according to the law there should also be members delegated by competing parties and representatives to overview the transparency of the elections. These members operate on a voluntary basis without payment but with the same responsibilites as the paid members, so there are never enough people willing to take up this role. This year though an NGO organized a movement to enlist 20.000 people all accross the country.
Since according to Hungary’s election law, as a public servant I am not allowed to be an elected member of the Committee anyway, I enlisted to be a counting agent as a volunteer. Although I consider the elections a crucial cornerstone of democracy and I can speak volumes about the importance of showing up (see my post from last year here), for several reasons I’ve never enlisted to take part in conducting it before. This year I was convinced it’s important that more people oversee the legality of the voting procedure than ever before. I fully agree with this, but I do think that this should be the norm for every elections instead of a special occasion for this time.
We got a very thorough training from the delegating organisation, the theoretical part of which was no surprise to me, as a lawyer I learned most of it. The practical part, about the tasks and obligations of counting agents were a bit more foreign, but still not many surprises. What really was new were the records of experienced counting agents about the attempted election frauds they needed to stop or prevent. You hear about it in the news, but I’ve always imagined that those are rare, unique instances instead of an organised, systemic thing. There are of course irregularities occurring not because someone intends to commit fraud, but because the members of the committee are not necessarily lawyers or professionals and they are not aware of all the rules, we have to warn them and insist upon keeping the rules all the same.
As I am writing this I am after a messed-up delegation (turned out the candidate who should have made my delegation happen forgot about it, so at last I got appointed as an alternate member to a more remote location), but still before the swearing in. In the past few days there were several occasions when it was unsure whether I can actually take part. All I know is I would be very disappointed if I had to miss it now, after all the hours I put in the training and preparations, so I hope nothing more will come up.
A collegue of mine when I told her about this said she served as a counting agent once, said it was terrible and never again, but engouraged me to try for myself. 😃 So, that’s what I’ll do. The delegating organization did a great job gathering all the people, keeping our spirits high, organizing the trainings and/or creating training materials, creating a great mobile app to use before and during the elections. It is equal part thinking we are going to fight for the same ideals as all the members of the Counting Committee, namely the fair and transparent elections, and also going to battle with everybody who does not respect these ideals. We are going in good faith, but prepared for confrontation when needed.
As I mentioned countless times already, I have a huge respect for the institution of the elections, so whatever small part I can play to keep it clean and fair, I am glad to be able to take it this time.