The parliamentary elections were a competitive process, with multiple electoral options. The authorities organized the process efficiently, but several key regulations were published late and were not communicated effectively. Although the authorities’ efforts to give quarantined and isolated voters the opportunity to vote were more visible than in the local elections, electoral legislation has proved its limits. Voting abroad was organized efficiently, with different options for exercising the right to vote, but certain difficulties in the return of the mail-in ballot envelopes, which resulted in speculative allegations of fraud in the public space, requiring a comprehensive analysis of how the process is organized. The transparency of the campaign funding was low due to a lack of data regarding the contributions of the competitors and interim reporting, but it is also due to an active pre-campaign period, without the application of transparency rules. Topics addressed by existing parliamentary parties in an attempt to attract votes reflected the already polarized political atmosphere, rather than addressing issues of real interest to voters. This context left room for the rise of a new, nationalist and conservative party which, by capitalizing on the dissatisfaction of some voters with health security measures, received enough votes to cross the electoral threshold. Election day was organized in an orderly manner, under the auspices of low voter turnout.
Legislative and administrative framework
The legislative framework for organising the parliamentary elections is a complex one, modified by governmental decisions and ministerial orders that regulated health safety procedures. The primary legislation was supplemented by numerous decisions of the Permanent Electoral Authority (PEA) and the Central Electoral Bureau (CEB). The legislative framework remains non-unitary and creates confusion both among voters and election organizers.
In September, the legislation was amended by 202/2020 Law, which extended the options of voting abroad, introduced certain health and safety regulations and allowed competitors to use subsidies for the electoral campaign. The law also changed the criteria for setting up electoral commissions shortly before elections, contrary to international standards.
A number of key provisions were regulated late. First of all, the Government issued HG 1038/2020 on 4 December, establishing that the restrictions on circulation of persons are lifted, except those quarantined or isolated, from 5:00 on 6 December to 1:00 on 7 December. Given that at the end of November there were about 60 quarantined localities, including municipalities with a significant number of voters, this amendment could have been introduced earlier. The situation is similar in the case of the provisions regarding the movement of members of the electoral commissions, election organizers and the accredited persons. Before the amendment entered into force, FiecareVot sent requests to the Ministry of Interior, PEA and CEB to receive more information on how observers will be identified, but received replies in due time only from PEA and CEB.
The legislation on the use of the special ballot box was not changed after the local elections, although significant limitations were identified. Against this background, the CEB issued a series of three decisions that successively regulated the special ballot box for non-transportable or sick people. Decision 40, issued in October, did not contain any information on isolated or quarantined voters. At that time, Expert Forum requested the possibility of registering applicants by electronic means. Subsequently, Decisions 91 and 94 introduced changes that allowed these categories of voters to vote. However, CEB regulated differently, with double standards, starting from the same legal provision, allowing online registration for quarantined and isolated voters, but only the submission of documents in physical format for other categories of voters. In the absence of regulations by law or emergency ordinance, CEB took actions, such as the possibility to submit the requests to the constituency offices, which – although they were positive measures – exceeded the legal regulatory limits of the CEB. However, Fiecarevot received a number of complaints from voters that were not informed if their request had been accepted. Also, the decisions were issued late, a week before the elections, which did not allow the organization of effective information campaigns.
The decisions did not regulate how voters that enter the country on election day and should quarantine themselves according to legal regulations can vote. According to a response received from the CEB, voters should have planned their return to the country in due time and no special legal provisions are in place.
Although the legislation provided for the purchase of protective materials for members in the polling stations and other participants in the electoral process, members of the commissions that accompanied the special ballot box had selective access to face shields or surgical gowns, although they went to the homes of quarantined or isolated persons.
The Permanent Electoral Authority allowed non-governmental organizations, through Decision 25/2020, to request the documentation and the source code of the IT applications for the tabulation, respectively the distribution of the mandates. Although Expert Forum requested this information on 24 November 2020, it was not submitted until the day of the publication of this report. Moreover, the PEA included in decision to organize a presentation of applications. On 30.11.2020 the PEA organized a technical meeting about the access of IT specialists from newsrooms to the
application used for tabulation, to which EFOR received an invitation. However, our interpretation
is that the presentation should be more extensive and explain the whole mechanism of functioning for the applications.
The elections were generally organized efficiently by PEA, the CEB, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We also appreciate that efforts have been made by the lower level electoral administration – the constituency polling stations and the polling stations. Despite the difficulties created by the pandemic, 748 polling stations were opened and operated abroad without major restrictions.
The FiecareVot observers attended three online training sessions for members of polling stations abroad, namely tablet operators, which were professionally organized by STS and PEA. The training materials for the polling station members and tablet operators have been more elaborate and better respond to their needs compared to the local elections. The request of FiecareVot to participate to a training session for the electoral commission chairpersons in Romania did not receive any response.
The transparency of the process has been significantly diminished by the fact that the meetings of the electoral commissions are not public, contrary to the recommendations of the Venice Commission. The decisions of the CEB and the constituency commissions were published on their websites in a timely manner. FiecareVot’s request to CEB to broadcast the meetings online was denied.
Voters with domicile or residence abroad who registered in the Electoral Register until October 22 could opt for voting by mail. Law 202/2020 extended – positively – the deadline by another 30 days and allowed voters to print their own mail-in ballots. Finally, the ballots were printed in the country and distributed by the Romanian Post to voters. In the country, three postal voting commissions were set up, which received from the Romanian Post on Wednesday and Thursday approximately 6,000 envelopes each. Voters also had the option to send the envelopes to diplomatic missions abroad.
The Romanian Post distributed to the voters abroad, according to the lists of voters provided by PEA, between 2-13.11.2020, a total number of 35,808 envelopes with the materials necessary for postal voting. By the deadline set by law for receiving mail-in ballots, on Thursday at 23:59, 18,421 envelopes were received at the three electoral commissions in Romania. According to the information published on Saturday, 1,092 envelopes were returned after the deadline, which were cancelled according to the law. A total of 21,329 envelopes were registered by December 3rd, in the country and at diplomatic missions abroad.
According to the Romanian Post, there were approximately 250 complaints, out of which 60 were related to the activity of foreign postal services. The number of complaints received through the www.votcorect.ro platform was rather low, and most of them referred to envelopes that were not registered in a timely manner in countries such as Austria or Spain.
The number of external envelopes registered by Thursday is considerably lower than the number of envelopes sent to voters, but the difference corresponds to the statistics from the 2016 and 2019 postal voting.
As of the date of publication of this report, no institution has provided an analysis of the various possible reasons why the remaining ballots were not registered (cases in which voters did not receive envelopes or received incomplete envelopes, cases in which voters chose to not send the envelopes, cases in which envelopes sent by voters have not arrived on time and others). The public statements of some political leaders and a number of articles in the media, although lacking conclusive evidence, generated suspicions about the integrity of the organization of postal voting. In this context, we believe that the Romanian Post and the PEA must present as soon as possible public reports on the organization of postal voting and explain the causes that led to this situation.
In the context of transport restrictions caused by COVID-19 in several countries, the delivery of voting materials was also affected. However, we consider positive the efforts of the Romanian Post to transport the envelopes by trucks from several European countries with larger Romanian populations.
Another positive aspect is that PEA informed voters about the registration or non-registration of their external envelopes, as well as about the possibility to vote at the polling stations, in the case of non-registration. Voters could also verify the information on the platform www.votstrainatate.ro. In some countries, such as Malta, there were no polling stations organized, which, in addition to the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic, significantly reduced the possibility for voters to cast their vote in a polling station on Saturday or Sunday.
FiecareVot considers the introduction of the postal voting as a positive alternative method, in spite that the legislation and its implementation need to be improved.
FiecareVot observers attended the online training session for the members of the three electoral commissions in the country and their tablet operators, and on election night they observed the procedures for counting the votes at two of the three polling stations organized in the country. Observers noted that the procedures were not fully understood by polling officials who applied certain steps differently, in particular in regard to reporting the annulled ballots; therefore, we consider that the training on some of the procedures could be improved. The work of the polling stations was well organized, but the number of votes allocated to each section (approximately 6000) is excessive, contrary to the recommendation of FiecareVot after the previous parliamentary and presidential elections and should be reduced so that the workload for each office is reasonable. The members of the polling stations also pointed out that some information had been sent to them late and that they had not been fully informed about the work of the commissions. Remuneration remains insufficient under current law.
Electoral campaign and its financing
The election campaign had low visibility, partly due to the conditions created by the pandemic and partly due to restrictive regulations on promotional materials. The right to free speech was respected, and parties and candidates were able to disseminate their message to the electorate without restriction. The fact that the campaign speech was largely dominated by the conflict between the parliamentary majority and the minority government and by mutual attacks by the political parties reduced the public interest in the campaign.
The topics included in the campaign by the parliamentary parties in an attempt to attract votes responded more to the context of the already polarized atmosphere than to the real interest of voters. This left room for the rise of a new party, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), promoting anti-Western and conservative values, which obtained sufficient votes to pass the electoral threshold. During the campaign, the Romanian Orthodox Church released recommendations for voters, which, without naming parties or candidates, contained an explicit political and ideological message. Several interlocutors of FiecareVot criticized the involvement of the President in the campaign in support of the National Liberal Party.
The legislation on the financing of electoral campaigns remains restrictive, which determines the electoral competitors to move the actual campaign in the pre-campaign, when large street visual materials can be used. This context leads to a decrease in the transparency of campaign funding, as the rules for the campaign (marking of materials, reporting) do not apply to the pre-campaign.
Unlike for the local elections, the PEA did not publish detailed data on contributors, but only general information on electoral competitors, leading to a significant decrease in funding transparency. Expert Forum requested the publication of the data, but until the end of the campaign the database was not uploaded on www.finantarepartide.ro, although the electoral contestants declared until November 27 a total of 103,289,869.17 lei (out of which 5.5 million from subsidies). Furthermore, one of the candidates on the list of contributions informed EFOR that the data published for his campaign contributions was incorrect.
According to the data provided by the PEA, five parties (PSD, PNL, PMP, Pro Romania and UDMR) contributed with 94% of the total funds, declaring amounts per candidate of up to 52.2 thousand RON (PSD – see chart below). At the same time, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians declared 42,600 RON, less than even some independent candidates. AUR registered 621 candidates in the competition – a significant number for a relatively new party -, which indicates expenses equivalent to 69 lei for a candidate. Looking at the statistics below and considering the intensity of the campaign conducted by AUR, we consider that the amount declared is unrealistic and we can conclude that these expenses are far too low for a party that received over 8% of votes.
On election day, FiecareVot accredited 274 observers in 33 counties and Bucharest, as well as in polling stations organized abroad. The observers visited approximately 500 polling stations. This report includes data submitted from 421 polling stations through the MonitorizareVot smartphone application, developed by Code for Romania. The final report of FiecareVot will be published approximately one month after the end of the electoral process and will include data from all the polling stations.
Expert Forum organized an electoral support centre for voters and observers, composed of a Telverde service 0800 080 200 and the platform www.votcorect.ro. The information obtained from voters and observers was published on election day in a press release. On election day, the platform was accessed by over 27,000 visitors.
Election day was organized without major incidents and took place in a calm atmosphere, while polling stations staff and voters followed electoral procedures and health safety measures.
FiecareVot observers did not report any major problems or irregularities that could affect the integrity of the electoral process. The opening procedures were evaluated positively in all polling stations visited, with one exception. The voting process was well organized and the SIMPV functioned normally; observers rated the procedure as good or very good in 98% of cases.
Even in the conditions of a very low turnout (33% at national level) the observers reported congestion in almost 10% of the polling stations visited during voting. The voting procedure was well or very well understood by the vast majority of polling stations and voters. Observers reported that a high percentage of 28% of polling stations visited were not accessible to people with disabilities.
Numerous voters requested information through the electoral call center on the possibility to vote in another constituency on supplementary electoral lists; this seem to indicate that voters were not effectively informed on this topic and the legislation is rather limitative as the voter can only cast the ballot in the constituency where he or she is registered according to the domicile or residence.
The large number of polling stations opened abroad, along with the extension of the voting period to two days, gave the possibility to cast ballots to a larger number of voters than in previous parliamentary elections and eliminated long queues. We also appreciate as a positive aspect the legal provision that allows voters who at 9 PM are still in line to vote, while the process can be extended to at most 11:59 PM.
From the small sample of sections observed in the vote counting process, in just one case the procedure was not assessed as good or very good. Blank protocols were signed by members of commissions – in spite of legal provisions against this practice – in 35% of cases, while in 14% of cases the chairpersons of the electoral commissions had difficulties in filling in the documents. In 10% of the polling stations the atmosphere was tensed, compared to less than 2% during the voting.
The online publication of the protocols was followed in real time the night after the elections by the Code4Romania team, which aggregated the data and presented them to the public in an easily accessible format on the page www.rezultatevot.ro.
This report was carried out within the Observers for fair and safe parliamentary elections project, which is implemented by Expert Forum in partnership with Center for Civic Resources and benefits from a 15.000 euros grant from Active Citizens Fund Romania, programme funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Grants Grants 2014 -2021. The content of this website does not necessarily reflect the official position of the EEA and Norway Grants 2014-2021; for more information visit www.eeagrants.org.
Report published within a project funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), implemented by Expert Forum in partnership with CEELI Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).