Paved road of illegality also leads to voter lists of another state

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) expresses concern that the State Election Commission (SEC) continuously conducts legally questionable actions, followed by instrumentalization for the sake of political, i.e. party, confrontations. After a series of scandals that marked the work of the SEC last year, now we have reasonable doubts that the SEC made unauthorized access to the voter list, but also the personal data of voters from another state.

Yesterday, the State Election Commission (SEC) issued a statement declaring that this institution, following its competencies, regulated by the Law on Election of Councillors and Members of the Parliament and the Law on Voter Register, determined that the voter list for the Municipality of Herceg Novi contains 1,943 voters who already exercise the right to vote in the Republic of Serbia. However, the laws invoked by the SEC cannot be the basis for analysing data from another country’s voter list, nor for comparing them with data from the national list.

Although these data, when entering the unique identity number (JMBG) are available through the digital portal of the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government of the Republic of Serbia, as such are not intended for use by state authority of another state, in this case – Montenegrin authorities. Such digital systems, similar to those used in our country, primarily serve voters and their authorities to check their polling station, and by no means the public authorities of another state.

CCE indicates that the act of encroaching on voter lists of another state should not be based on the provisions of domestic law, given that such actions must take into account the sovereignty and legislative framework of another state, which was not the case here.

As the SEC does not have the appropriate instruments of international cooperation in this issue, nor the basis for self-initiated verification of voter lists of another state, the problem had to be solved in another manner and in cooperation with other bodies. Namely, the SEC had to address such a request to the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insisting on resolving suspicions of irregularities through bilateral cooperation with the Republic of Serbia and the exchange of information that could result in verification of the accuracy of the disputable facts.

The CCE also expresses concern that the Ministry of the Interior, given the information known to the public for some time, has not yet taken appropriate measures and actions having in mind the scope of the problem related to the voter lists in Herceg Novi, as well as the fact that the elections in that municipality are approaching. Therefore, the CCE calls on the Ministry of the Interior, but also the Government of Montenegro to resolve this issue as soon as possible in cooperation with the authorities of the Republic of Serbia, so that the legitimacy of these local elections would not be called into question.

The CCE also expects the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information (AZLP) to review the SEC’s actions and determine whether there was illegal processing of personal data and unauthorized access to the voter lists of another state.

Finally, the CCE points out that the members of the SEC who react subsequently further undermine the credibility of that institution because they also did nothing to implement the earlier recommendations to make the sessions public. The transparency of the SEC’s work would enable us to know what someone is advocating for and when, and whether all those who are now distancing themselves from the SEC’s actions are consistent in their position.

Damir Suljević, Programme associate