Czechs abroad “running” campaign for postal voting rights

Photo: Chris Phan, CC BY-SA 3.0

Czechs abroad calling for the introduction of postal voting in their native country have launched a novel campaign. It involves tracking kilometres they have run or walked – and highlights the fact that for many visiting polling stations at diplomatic missions is highly impractical.

Earlier this year Czechs living overseas began a campaign entitled Actively for Postal Voting. It was launched on February 2, the Day of Czechs Abroad, and will run until October’s general elections in their native country.

It is just the fact that they cannot vote remotely in such polls that spurred the campaign, under which individuals track kilometers they have run or walked on apps, with the total recorded centrally. At present participants have racked up over 21,500 kilometres.

Marta McCabe has been living in America since the mid-2000s, heads a Czech and Slovak school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – and is US coordinator for the We Want Postal Voting Initiative. She spoke to Czech Radio’s Jan Kaliba.

“I turn the app on when I go running or for a walk with my family or the dog. We’re trying to show politicians we’re interested in taking part in elections in the Czech Republic, and for that we’re willing to run long kilometres. It’s a long-distance run – postal voting has been discussed for several decades, and still hasn’t been passed.”

Marta McCabe,  photo: Jan Kaliba / Czech Radio

There are only four Czech diplomatic missions in the US where people like Marta McCabe can cast their ballots – and it would take her four days to walk to the nearest one, the Czech Embassy in Washington. Others like her have it even worse.

“For instance, from Texas it also means travelling to the embassy in Washington, DC. That’s around 2,000 kilometres, which means a Czech has to take time off work, organise childcare and probably book a hotel. It basically requires lots of time and cost. Especially when we’ve got to do it twice: to register, and then for the actual day of voting.”

Marta McCabe says the difficulty of voting for many Czechs living abroad makes them wonder whether they are valued at home.

“We feel that over the decades – actually since the Velvet Revolution – steps have not been taken to ensure we can actually use the right to vote. We have that right as citizens, but the opportunity to enforce it is so complicated that in practice it’s not really possible. It feels to us like the Czech Republic is not interested in the views not resident at the moment in the Czech Republic.”

Despite this perceived indifference, postal voting is likely to be discussed by lawmakers in Prague this week, when a third reading of a new electoral law takes place in Parliament.

However, government leaders ANO are against such a change at present and the concept is unlikely to be approved.