CITIZEN DIASPORA REGISTRATION & VOTING

IN AN

AGE OF GLOBALIZATION:
POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK

Introduction  
A review of the professional literature and best practices in the field of election management shows a dearth of material on the subject of standardized out-of-country registration and voting guidelines (OCV). For example, the subject is addressed in the “Voting From Abroad” section of the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network web site, but their review of the issues raise more questions than they answer.1 What established conventions demand, however, is that universal suffrage must not be threatened or sacrificed. One of the clearest examples of this demand is found in the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, which explicitly states: “Migrant workers and members of their families shall have the right to participate in public affairs of their State of origin and to vote and to be elected at elections of that State, in accordance with its legislation.” “The States concerned shall, as appropriate and in accordance with their legislation, facilitate the exercise of these rights.” 2 As ever more people seek opportunities across the globe due to trends, pressures, and opportunities offered by the modern world economy, the political and governing institutions of the home countries of these diaspora need to better address the issues of political and voting rights of citizen diaspora. And, election management bodies (EMBs) need to find solutions to problems related to registration and voting processes in order to produce truly representative elections. Resolving the issues of out-of-country registration and voting issues is of utmost importance to states that have significant percentages of their citizenry living abroad. For whatever reasons these diaspora find themselves away from home on Election Day, be it economic, political, or personal security, they should not be deprived of their constitutional right of suffrage. As the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network web site points out . . . “Administrative problems or delays in the external voting are often viewed as deliberate acts of fraud by an incumbent government or even by the election management body (EMB). This is particularly true for external voting. It is important to eliminate any potential cause for suspicion when planning the implementation of external voting.”3

http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/va International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, UN document A/RES/45/158, 18 December 1990, article 41. 3 http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/va
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POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK IN GEORGIA

Political  Interference  in  the  Electoral  Process  in  The  Republic  of  Georgia      
A nation with one of the largest percentages of its citizenry living and working abroad is the Republic of Georgia. Georgia also happens to be a member of ACEEEO. Since 1995, Georgians have gone abroad in in large waves, and today the Georgian citizen diaspora is estimated at over 1 million citizens, out of a total citizenry of 3.6 million -- or more than a quarter of all Georgian citizens. Georgia greatly benefits from its citizen diaspora as they transfer substantial remittances home to family members living in Georgia, thus artificially improving the standard of living inside the country. These remittances relieve extreme political and economic pressure on the government through the infusion of capital that would otherwise be lacking without their support. The diaspora also lowers the domestic unemployment rate significantly below what it would be otherwise. By one measure, remittances from Georgians living abroad constituted the equivalent of 17 percent of Georgia’s Gross Domestic Product. In effect, the Georgian government has exported its unemployment problem, and, in so doing, benefits from huge infusions of capital without corresponding social support costs. And, the government doesn’t even have to worry about addressing the political and governance concerns of Georgians their citizens abroad. living overseas unsurprisingly Yet as Georgia has sought to develop better democratic institutions and have felt political processes in the post-Soviet era, few Georgians living abroad isolated from have participated in politics at home. Until recently, the only domestic opportunity for overseas Georgians to participate in domestic politics politics and get was to register, and subsequently vote, at Georgian consulates, which are little attention few and far between relative to the distribution of Georgians living abroad. Hence, only small percentage of diaspora Georgians voted in the by the political and governing last round of national elections. Georgians living overseas institutions. unsurprisingly have felt isolated from domestic politics and get little attention by the political and governing institutions. An opportunity arose to remedy this situation and expand participation in Georgia’s democracy in 2011 when the Georgian Parliament enacted legislation as part of a new e-government initiative to permit Georgians living abroad to register to vote online via an online interview with a consular official using the Skype internet telephony platform. A group of overseas Georgians keen to encourage their fellow diaspora citizens to participate in the national politics of their homeland formed a civil society organization (CSO), Georgian Voice – For Fair Elections. Georgian Voice began a publicity campaign in a number of cities around the world with significant Georgian populations intended to publicize the newly enacted registration procedure and encourage diaspora Georgians to register. Registration was proceeding apace, with over 2000 new voters registering on the consular list every week on average. The project, however, suffered a major setback when the Georgian Foreign Ministry amended its new overseas voter registration regulations in July 2012, midway through the election registration cycle, to require that registrants show documentary proof of their specific place of residence overseas (although the specific definition of what documents would be adequate to prove residency was never provided to prospective registrants). Many diaspora Georgians, some undocumented residents of their host countries, questioned the Georgian government’s need for this specific address data and feared that it could be used against them in some way, either by Georgia’s government or by the 2

POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK IN GEORGIA
governments of their host countries. Following the implementation of the new regulations, registration by diaspora Georgians effectively came to an abrupt halt. The unexplained midstream regulatory change by the Foreign Ministry, aside from raising yet unanswered questions concerning its motivation for doing so, prompted Georgian Voice, other CSOs and scholars to consider more broadly what Georgia’s objectives as a democratic society are, what they should be, and how those objectives should be implemented. Georgian In response to the Georgian government’s deleterious rule change, Voice now Georgian Voice filed a petition (copy attached) with the Ministry of plans to file a Foreign Affairs to vacate their harmful “proof of residency” decree. As of formal lawsuit the date of this report, the Ministry has failed to respond to the Georgian to seek an Voice petition within the timeframe required by law. Georgian Voice now injunction, or plans to file a formal lawsuit to seek an injunction, or revocation, of the revocation, of offending Ministry decrees. the offending Ministry Opportunities for further registration of overseas voters have effectively decrees. passed for the current election cycle, with parliamentary elections having been set by the government to take place on October 1, 2012 (curiously, and without precedent, on a Monday, as Sunday is traditionally Election Day in Georgia), but Georgian Voice hopes to revive OCV registration if we can get a positive decision from the Georgian courts in time for the 2013 presidential election. Democratization theory instructs that, for governments to be perceived as having legitimacy to act on behalf of the citizenry at large, interests must be represented within the political system. Many democratic states have responded to this challenge in the first instance by enacting and implementing mechanisms for their citizenry to vote in home elections whilst abroad. Georgia’s enactment of the 2011 diaspora voter registration law represented a major step forward towards approaching international norms for full democratic political representation for its citizens. The July 2012 change in regulations that brought a halt to the registration process appears all the more unfortunate in that light. The main problem that Georgia faces, as already identified, is that the government’s stated policy of encouraging and facilitating diaspora registration and voting, as enacted by Parliament, is no longer being implemented since the July 2012 change in the registration regulations to require documentation of foreign addresses. The fact that diaspora registration using the government’s online registration procedure essentially ceased following implementation of the July 2012 change in registration procedures confirms that the Georgian government’s requirement that registrants document their foreign addresses frightens diaspora voters, which serves to disenfranchise them.

This is a chilling and aberrant policy that should be immediately repudiated by the Georgian government.

Georgians living in the European Union told Georgian Voice representatives that they believed that the Georgian government had made an agreement with the EU to turn over addresses of Georgians living in the EU to EU officials as part of the negotiation of an EU-Georgia visa-free travel regime. For possibly undocumented Georgian EU residents, this raised fears of deportation. EU officials have confirmed that, not only does such an agreement not exist, but that EU governments have no mechanism for receiving and acting upon such information. To do so, is a self-appointed duty that is at odds with the traditional role of embassies and consulates, which is to protect the rights of its citizens abroad, not persecute them for imagined offenses against host governments. 3

POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK IN GEORGIA
Even so, the Georgian Ambassador to France was recently quoted as saying “ . . . that Georgians residing illegally in foreign countries will not be permitted to vote in this election.”4 This is an absolutely astonishing statement representing an even more astonishing governmental policy. This policy somehow connects citizens’ constitutional rights with their residency status abroad. This is a chilling and aberrant policy that should be immediately repudiated by the Georgian government. Even if this odious policy is allowed to stand – against all normal understanding of citizens’ constitutional rights and governments’ responsibility to protect them -- there is no possible way for Georgian officials to determine the validity of proof of residency status. As an example to demonstrate the absurdity of the task of verifying the residency status of Georgians abroad, there are 185 different visas issued by the government of the United States. We submit that no Georgian bureaucrat can possibly determine the validity of all of the permits issued by the U.S.A., much less of the permits of all of the other countries where Georgians are living in working. And, if not residency permits, then what else could be offered to provide proof of residency? Utility bills? Drivers’ licenses? These are so numerous in form and variation that it is beyond reason to suggest that such documents could prove anything, especially proof of residency. What the demand for this kind of “proof’ allows, however, is the arbitrariness of the acceptance – and refusal -- of such documents by Georgian bureaucrats. Any As of Friday, government official could reject any proffered document at will without September 7, 2012, due process or legal recourse for the citizen who is refused registration. the Georgian government Statements received by Georgian Voice have confirmed such summary announced that it dismissal of the validity of proof offered during the registration process. would not open any We submit that it is not the responsibility, or within the mandate or polling stations any authority, of the Georgian government, under international law, treaty, where in Russia, or norm to determine the immigration status of its citizens, or assist where it is estimate host nations in policing the legal migration status of Georgian nationals that about ten living abroad. Continuing to pursue this self-assumed “duty” puts the percent (10%) of the consulates at odds with their traditional and accepted role of protecting entire Georgian the rights of its citizens abroad, not persecute them for imagined or citizenry resides. unprovable offenses against host governments. Even Georgians living in the United States expressed concerns to Georgian Voice representatives about what the Georgian government might do with overseas voter address information. The second major problem is that once diaspora Georgians are registered to vote, many will still face enormous challenges in terms of how to cast a ballot on Election Day. At present, Georgians are still expected to vote at consulates. Under existing legislation consulates are not mandated clearly to open polling stations in all the areas in which concentrations of Georgians can be documented, although Georgian election law stipulates that additional polling stations must be opened when a threshold of 1,500 voters is reached. There is no distinction in the law between polling stations in country and out of country locations. Los Angeles, for example, which by some counts has several thousand Georgians resident in the metropolitan area, is over 4000 km from the nearest, and only, Georgian consulates in the United States, New York and Washington, D.C. It is unrealistic and unreasonable to expect diaspora voters to take time off of work and pay several hundred dollars to travel across the United States to vote. For Georgians living in Milan and Thessaloniki to travel to their consulates in Rome and Athens respectively, the distance is not as great but the time and cost required for travel would still be onerous for working persons – especially now that the government chose to hold elections on a normal work day, Monday.

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http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2687_september_6_2012/2687_elections.html 4

POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK IN GEORGIA
Surprisingly, one CSO representative in Georgia argued that it would be excessively costly for the Georgian government to open polling stations everywhere that there are concentrations of diaspora voters. Yet by that logic if cost were considered a valid obstacle to implementing the democratic representative principle of one person, one vote, then no poor countries would ever be democracies, and even governments of wealthy countries might decide that they could find more worthy ways of spending the public purse than to hold elections. Governments might, for example, choose to dispense with elections altogether and instead appoint representatives of the people or choose them by lot. This also makes a connection between the constitutional rights and state budgets. That is not a slippery slope that any democracy should be tempted to navigate. As of Friday, September 7, 2012, the Georgian government announced that it would not open any polling stations any where in Russia, where it is estimated that about ten percent (10%) of the entire Georgian citizenry resides. This is yet another new and extremely troubling action that further exacerbates the disenfranchisement of Georgian citizens. A forth problem is the ambivalence of the government and the political parties more broadly about the participation in domestic politics of overseas Georgians. The Georgian government for their part has been reluctant to provide information to their own citizens even about the number of Georgians abroad. The League of Voters, a Tbilisi-based NGO, after unsuccessfully requesting data from the government on the number of Georgians crossing Georgian borders annually, has been compelled to file suit against the government in an effort to obtain the data. In a global economy characterized by ever greater cross-border flows of goods, services, capital and labor, a larger percentage of the global population than ever before are living and working outside of their country of citizenship. According to UN Population Agency UNFPA, over 191 million people, three percent of the world’s population, lived abroad in 2005. Hence best practices of ensuring electoral legitimacy mandate governments to facilitate political participation of their overseas citizenry by bringing the mechanics of registration and voting up to international standards of best practice. Ninety-one countries worldwide already permit overseas citizens to vote in home elections.5

Under current conditions, Georgia is not meeting the Copenhagen political criteria.

Georgia’s introduction of online consular registration via Skype was an important step toward meeting standards of best practice, but unfortunately the mechanism has been vitiated by the imposition of the unnecessary proof of address verification requirement. Georgian citizens living abroad need to be able to register to vote easily and under conditions that they do not perceive as threatening to their status in their countries of residence. International standards of best practice in overseas voting systems include consular voting, postal ballots and, in a small but growing number of situations, online voting. If in-person voting is to be conducted by consulates, consulates have an obligation to open polling stations sufficiently close to concentrations of diaspora populations that at least a majority of overseas voters can cast ballots without significant cost in time or money. Polling stations must also contain a sufficient number of ballot boxes that all voters who present themselves can be processed within a reasonable amount of time on Election Day. One significant disadvantage of consular voting is that, even if consulates open polling stations wherever concentrations of Georgians live, a significant number of overseas Georgians will still find themselves living too far from consulates for voting to be practical and affordable. Stephen Reader, ‘Explainer: Why are Expats Represented in Home Countries?’, It’s A Free Country, WNYC.com, 27 June 2012, http://www.wnyc.org/articles/its-freecountry/2012/jun/27/explainer-why-do-french-expats-get-representative-parliament/, accessed 27 August 2012. 5
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POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK IN GEORGIA
For example, at present diplomatic circumstances prevent the operation of any consulates in the Russian Federation, which hosts a substantial number of overseas Georgians. Hence the Georgian government may wish to consider developing a system of voting by postal ballot, such as presently operated in the United States, with appropriate safeguards to prevent vote fraud. A third option would be to develop online voting. Online voting would have the advantage of nearly complete availability to overseas Georgians, significant cost savings and rapid, simple counting of ballots. Technologies are new and still under It must be the development. Implementing effective systems to prevent vote fraud responsibility and through online voting would be crucial to its success. The best intent of the option may be to offer all three methods of voting. In the 2012 Georgian French presidential election, overseas voters had the option of voting government to in person at consulate, by postal ballot, or online. enfranchise its citizens, at home and Consideration of the most effective means of representation of abroad, instead of diaspora Georgians in parliament raises the issue of whether broader implementing cynical electoral reforms would be appropriate to bring Georgia into line decrees and with international standards of best practice. Some make the case that regulations that democratic societies must do more than encourage voters to vote. In unconstitutionally some nations, such as Brazil and Australia, voting is compulsory, disenfranchise their with failure to vote punishable by a fine. Adherents of this practice own citizenry. argue that voting is a duty of citizenship if democracy is to be viable. Opponents argue that compulsory voting robs the citizenry of the right to express democratically their dissatisfaction with electoral choices by not voting. Supporters reply that Brazilian and Australian voters can and do register dissatisfaction with the choices or with the system more broadly by spoiling their ballots in the polling station. Georgia will still not be eligible to apply for formal membership in the EU until it is deemed to have met the EU’s ‘Copenhagen criteria’, a set of political and economic criteria for membership established at the EU Copenhagen summit in 1993. The political criteria are: ‘stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.’6 When Georgia enacted its recent constitutional reforms in 2010, for example, the NATO Parliamentary assembly, whilst praising some aspects of the reforms, expressed concerns that Georgia had not availed itself fully of the advice of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs.7 Under current conditions, Georgia is not meeting the Copenhagen political criteria. Hence even once the association agreement under the PCA is negotiated, Georgia cannot hope to be granted leave to begin accession negotiations. Other key Georgian strategic objectives include improving governance standards in terms of delivery of services to the people: improving efficiency and integrity. The government’s recent e-government initiative falls under this rubric. Yet this is clearly still a work in progress. Related to this is the even more pivotal objective of increasing economic development and growth: creating jobs at home, attracting trade, investment and tourism. For all of these activities an engaged, politically active Georgian diaspora is indispensable. Arguably Georgia’s greatest asset in promoting the country abroad is its diaspora population, provided they are motivated and mobilized by a sense of political ownership and participation.

Europa, Summaries of European Legislation, Glossary, Accession criteria (Copenhagen criteria), http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/glossary/accession_criteria_copenhague_en.htm, accessed 27 August 2012. 7 Civil.ge, ‘NATO Parliamentary Assembly on Georgia's Constitutional Reform’, 17 November 2010, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=22854, accessed 27 August 2012. 6

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POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK IN GEORGIA
In conclusion, Georgia has a number of key assets to exploit in achieving these challenging strategic objectives, as well as weaknesses that are getting in the way. Amongst the assets, in an age in which political disaffection and disinterest seems rife and spreading in the mature western democracies, Georgia’s domestic population is politically engaged and energized. More than one interviewee in Tbilisi stated that the upcoming parliamentary election offers a real choice for the first time, in contrast to past elections that ratified changes of government already accomplished by popular uprising or merely confirmed the rule of the governing party with little opposition. In this political environment the diaspora population can play a key part. It must be the responsibility and intent of the Georgian government to enfranchise its citizens, at home and abroad, instead of implementing cynical decrees and regulations that unconstitutionally disenfranchise their own citizenry.

The  Role  of  International  Democracy  Assistance  Organizations  
On the subject of out-of-country voting, a survey of the focus and scope of work of the major international democracy assistance organizations found that none of those active in Georgia included OCV in their work plans. Interviews conducted by the authors of this paper with the chiefs of party of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) confirmed that OCV programming was not a part of their mandate. We find this programming omission to be inexplicable considering that Georgia has such a large diaspora. Instead, NDI and IRI reported that a their programming included such activities as conducting public opinion polling. This seem to us as an egregious misuse of democracy assistance resources, especially considering that the ruling party, and its Billionaire opposition leader, know enough about public opinion polling and can certainly afford to conduct such polling themselves. We think, therefore, that the international democracy assistance community has failed to provide a key component of much needed democracy assistance – the enfranchisement of 25% of the Georgian electorate.

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PROPOSAL TO ACEEEO

Proposal  to  ACEEEO  
We respectfully request that ACEEEO consider examining the issues facing diaspora registration and voting, as described above, in a formal and structured manner. Once again referring to the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network web site, the note: “Little comparative research has been carried out on the subject of external voting. Some articles on the topic can be found in the legal literature for certain countries, but there are almost none in the social-sciences fields. There is a general absence of systematic information on the relevant legal provisions of individual countries. Furthermore, a set of criteria is needed by which the functioning of some of the institutional arrangements associated with external voting can be evaluated. This is all the more important because a number of countries have already scheduled external voting for future elections but have still no regulations in place for implementing it.” Examining these issues in greater detail will provide ACEEEO with the opportunity to produce thoughtful, definitive, and needed theoretical and practical contributions to the field of election administration. We make this request under ACEEEO’s Charter, Article 3.4.a., which states that; “The General Assembly shall consider issues of common interest and adopt decisions in accordance with the provisions of this Charter and its own rules of procedure. It shall in particular: a. Consider proposals or questions of common interest submitted by its members, the Executive Board or the Secretariat.”

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