Last week, the National Election Committee (NVB), in which the ruling parties have a majority, fined several NGOs who were urging voters to cast invalid ballots at the controversial referendum that the government dubbed “vote on child protection.” Fined NGOs now claim NVB only wants to silence them and announced that they will turn to the supreme court (Kúria), arguing that not allowing invalid voting is a restriction of freedom of expression.
As we previously reported, the referendum was held together with the general election. Several NGOs were campaigning for invalid votes, as in their view it was “particularly mean-spirited for two reasons. On the one hand, the wording of the questions creates the idea that young people will be hurt by learning about sexual minorities; on the other hand, it violates the dignity of LGBTIQ people.”
Eventually, a total of 1,715,578 (20,88%) people voted invalidly, which is a record, resulting in the referendum being invalid altogether. The NGOs later urged the government to revoke the relevant law the referendum was about, which PM Viktor Orbán refused.
According to the Election Committee, a referendum campaign must not involve such activities because that would go against “the constitutional aim of directly exercising (people’s) power and…the legislator’s aim.” Encouraging participants to make a referendum invalid is an “abuse of the law,” the committee said.
A fine of HUF 176,400 (EUR 466) each has been imposed on groups including Amnesty International Hungary, foundations Artemisszió and Szivárvány (Rainbow) Mission, the Háttér association, the Labrisz lesbian association, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and gay sports association Atlasz.
The NGOs have now announced to turn to the Supreme Court (Kúria), contesting the decision.
Fact In fact, Hungarian law does not ban invalid voting at referendums. On the contrary, in 2016, the Constitutional Court (AB) accepted invalid voting as a possible answer to referendum questions. In addition, invalid voting is not considered illegal anywhere in the world, according to Telex, it is rather an option included in the choices offered to the voter.
Besides a number of formal objections, the Helsinki Committee (the body representing the fined NGOs), argues:
- it is not clear why it would be illegal to vote invalidly if the law does not prohibit it
- it is not logical how an invitation to do so can be illegal
- the decision restricts freedom of expression on the basis of its content, and is in fact mostly a political declaration in favor of a government referendum.
This is not the first time that calling for invalid voting has caused controversy. In 2016, it was the Two Tailed Dog Party (MKKP) who called for invalid voting at the Fidesz government’s similarly controversial migrant quota referendum. The satirical party even developed an application for voters to be able to record their invalid ballots, for which they were later condemned both by NVB and the Kúria. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) within the Strasbourg Court, however, sided with MKKP, establishing that NVB and the Kúria violated the exercise of freedom of expression.
The Helsinki Committee’s official notes that only one judge of the Strasbourg Court’s Grand Chamber did not agree with the majority decision: Russian Dmitry Dedov, whose arguments are now “interestingly” reflected in the complaints sent to NVB, on the basis of which the NGOs were eventually fined.
featured image illustration by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI