10 Apr In Other ECHR News: Greeks Have No Right to Vote, at Least Not in Strasbourg
The European Court of Human Rights is getting a lot of play today with its decision to okay the extradition of Abu Hamza to the US. To much less (read: no) fanfare, it also denied a petition to compel external voting rights in Greek parliamentary elections for Greek citizens living outside of Greece in the case of Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos v. Greece (press release here). The opinion includes an excellent overview of where we are on external voting, at least among European states. The short answer: it’s come along way, but we’re not quite at the point at which it is required as an individual right.
The applicants were making the case for a right to vote in their place of external residence (here, Strasbourg, where they both work as EU civil servants). They premised their case on the fact that:
they followed political developments in their country of origin with particular interest and wished to maintain close ties with Greece. In particular, they pointed out that they were registered on the electoral roll in Greece, held valid Greek passports, owned immovable property in Greece on which they paid income tax and were still authorised to practise as lawyers in Greece. They maintained that being unable to vote in the Greek parliamentary elections from their State of residence constituted interference with their voting rights, in breach of both the Greek Constitution and the Convention. That interference arose out of the fact that they would have to travel to Greece in order to exercise their right to vote. The applicants acknowledged that they could fly to Samos and Thessaloniki, their respective home towns, for parliamentary elections. However, that possibility did not alter the substance of their claim, namely that they would thereby incur significant expense and that their professional and family life would be disrupted since they would be obliged to be away from their work and families for a few days.
Sounds like a self-governance claim to me. The Greek government countered with the standards argument against external voting, that non-resident citizens “could not legitimately argue that they were affected by the decisions of the country’s political institutions to a greater extent than Greek citizens living in Greece.”
As described by the ECHR, most European countries now enable external voting (in fact only eight bar it altogether, none of them major and some of them micro, like Andorra and San Marino). The Venice Commission and the Council of Europe have been pushing for facilitating the franchise by external populations. But the Court couldn’t find enough there to require under the Convention that voting rights be accommodated in place of foreign residence. The ECHR implied, however, that external residents cannot be denied the franchise altogether, even if it means getting on an airplane to exercise it. “As to the disruption to the applicants’ financial, family and professional lives that would have been caused had they had to travel to Greece in order to exercise their right to vote in the 2007 parliamentary elections, the Court is not convinced that this would have been disproportionate to the point of impairing the very essence of the voting rights in question.”