2010 election marks third time Czechs abroad able to take part in vote

Czech figure skating legend Ája Vrzáňová votes in the Czech Centre in New York, photo: CTK

This Thursday and Friday marks the third time Czechs abroad – from as far away as Japan or the US – have been able to take part in the national election. Polling stations abroad opened at 14 pm on Thursday – a day earlier than they opened in the Czech Republic. Worldwide as many as 6,000 Czechs expatriates are expected to cast their ballot.

Czech film director Miloš Forman casts his ballot in the Czech Centre in New York,  photo: CTK
Some 70,000 Czechs live abroad and now, for just the third time in the history of the Czech Republic, some will be taking part in a national election underway in the “old country”. But certainly not all, far from it. Only around 6,000 worldwide have registered to do so this year - similar numbers as in 2006. In the US, voters of Czech descent are casting their ballots at four polling stations around the country: at the Czech Embassy in Washington and consulates in New York, Chicago, and LA. Ivana Klánová, the head of the Consular Section at the Czech consulate in Chicago, described the atmosphere there in the early hours of Thursday.

“We are expecting quite a few Czechs from the Chicago area to come and vote: these are the second elections we have seen, as the consulate in Chicago was opened in 2006. This year we have around 120 registered Czech citizens and we expect around ten more voters who are here short-term to come, having also obtained permission. ”

Only around 700 Czech expatriates are registered to vote throughout the entire US – not a lot of interest. One reason is almost certainly the problem of distance. The Consulate General in Chicago alone serves 11 different states, which means that for some voting in elections “back home” is not a strong priority. Although the consulate in Chicago had voters drive from as far away as Minnesota in the last election, distance continues to dissuade at least some from taking part. Ivana Klánová again:

Czech figure skating legend Ája Vrzáňová votes in the Czech Centre in New York,  photo: CTK
“First of all there is a problem of distance and the fact that they have to come in person. Due to distances in the US, this can be a problem. A second factor, is simply that some people don’t follow events in the Czech Republic all that closely, maybe only through the media, or have other concerns. They probably just aren’t as involved.”

In the last election, votes from aboard which went to candidates in the region of South Bohemia ended up playing a crucial role: securing a final mandate for the right-of-centre Civic Democrats that left the Chamber of Deputies in deadlock. This year’s elections are also expected to be closely contested, so it could be that votes from abroad will again be important. As in 2006, this year’s votes from abroad will again go to candidates in the region of South Bohemia, after the region was again chosen in a draw by the State Electoral Commission.