The FiecareVot Coalition (FV) observed the presidential election organized in Romania on 10 and 24 November 2019. FV deployed 850 independent observers in country and abroad who covered some 1,500 polling stations or approximately 8 per cent of the 18,748 polling stations in country and 838 for out-of-country voting.
FV organized a support call center for observers and voters. During the six voting days, a number of 534 calls were processed by legal and election experts through the 0800 080 200 Telverde service. The VotCorect platform (www.votcorect.ro) featuring voting procedures instructions and answers to frequently asked questions recorded 223,000 visits during the election period. Through this instrument, voters reported 349 irregularities of various kinds. Observation forms for the election days were centralized through the Vote Monitor smartphone application, developed by Code for Romania.
The election for the president of Romania was competitive and took place in a calm environment, with respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Voters could choose from a wide range of party-nominated and independent candidates. The election administration organized the process in a professional manner.
The legal framework provided an adequate basis for conducting a democratic process; however, the election laws contain discrepancies, shortcomings and insufficiently clear formulations, especially regarding postal voting. In the absence of a unified Electoral Code, the different regulations needed to be harmonized for the coherent organization of elections. This led to legislative changes adopted shortly before the election, including through an emergency ordinance, thus continuing a practice that bypasses parliamentary procedure and is contrary to international good electoral practice.
The electoral administration, consisting of the Permanent Election Authority (PEA) and a three-tiered structure of electoral bureaus, fulfilled its tasks efficiently, met the deadlines established by the electoral calendar, and published numerous decisions for the implementation and clarification of the legal framework. The Special Telecommunications Service efficiently provided the infrastructure for the operation of the Informatic System for Monitoring Voter Turnout and Preventing Illegal Voting (SIMPV).
The transparency of the process was undermined by the fact that the meetings of the Central Electoral Bureau (CEB) were not public, contrary to Venice Commission recommendations.
Candidates nominated by parties and alliances had the opportunity to appoint representatives at each level of the electoral administration, while independent candidates are not granted the same right.
The capacity of PEA was tested due to the dismissal in August of the directors of two departments with key responsibilities in organizing elections. Several civil society organizations protested against this decision, which was widely regarded as abusive.
Voter registration is passive, based on a national Electoral Register. For the first time, permanent lists of out-of-country voters were compiled through active registration. Voters added to supplementary lists abroad could sign the list electronically, which allowed for faster processing of voters. However, due to discrepancies in the law, voters registered on permanent lists abroad were added on supplementary lists on election day. A new provision allowed political parties to obtain copies of supplementary lists at the end of the voting process; this provision was criticized by civil society representatives for failing to comply with the law for the protection of personal data and was challenged by the Ombudsperson in the Constitutional Court.
Candidate registration was based on lists of at least 200,000 supporting signatures; contrary to Venice Commission recommendations, this number exceeds 1 per cent of the total number of registered voters (18,217,156 before the first round). The signature verification and validation process, insufficiently detailed by the law, lacked transparency and did not enjoy the trust of FV interlocutors. After the CEB issued the first decision rejecting a candidacy on grounds of similar signatures, the candidate appealed to the Constitutional Court, which admitted the appeal and ruled that apparent similarity of signatures was not sufficient grounds for rejection, in the absence of an objective verification process. Following the Constitutional Court ruling, the CEB notified the criminal prosecution bodies regarding a total of eight candidates who submitted lists containing similar signatures. The CEB registered five of these eight candidates and rejected in total seven candidates, of which three had submitted photocopied signature sheets and another four had failed to gather the required number of signatures. In total, the CEB registered 14 candidates (12 men and 2 women), including 2 independent. Significantly, the incumbent President Klaus Iohannis and Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă were among the presidential candidates.
During the election campaign the right to free speech and association were respected. Candidates could freely organize their campaign and transmit their message to voters. Although the environment was competitive, the campaign remained low key and the visibility of most candidates was very limited. The campaign discourse was largely dominated by the topic of the political and governmental crisis. The lack of debate on the candidates’ programmes affected voters’ opportunity to make an informed choice. Before the second round, the president repeatedly refused his opponent’s invitations to a debate, and the candidates participated in separate media events.
Most candidates started their campaign weeks before the official campaign period, and thus circumvented legal regulations regarding outdoor campaign materials, which are generally considered restrictive. Before the official start of the campaign (12 October, according to the law) candidates could and did use banners, billboards and other outdoor materials which are prohibited during the campaign.
Regarding campaign finance, the ceiling for expenditures was increased from 10,000 to 20,000 gross minimum salaries (approximately 8.8 mil. EUR per candidate). A 2019 legislative derogation allowed political parties to spend public subsidies for their election campaigns. More than half of the total of approximately 15 million EUR registered by competitors as campaign contributions had been redirected from state subsidies, which created an advantage for parties benefiting from public funds. Competitors who obtain more than 3 per cent of the valid votes cast can request to be reimbursed for campaign expenditures originating from private contributions. Only four candidates reported debts at the end of the election; the largest debt was accumulated by the National Liberal Party, which supported the incumbent president.
Expenses for publicity incurred by parties and candidates before the campaign period were not declared as campaign expenses, but as expenses for the promotion of the respective parties, which are reported annually. This lowered the transparency of the campaign finance system.
The PEA published voter information materials to be used in country and abroad, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Romanians Abroad and Romanian embassies actively participated in the campaign to inform voters abroad. The efficiency of voter information programmes remained however limited, including due to insufficient funds. Several non-governmental organizations also developed voter information campaigns.
The PEA issued accreditations to numerous election observer organizations, both national and international, under a much simplified procedure compared to the previous election. Contrary to Venice Commission recommendations, the election law provides only for election day observation, rather than to all aspects and stages of the election process. The fact that the leader of an accredited observer organization stood as a candidate in the same election, albeit not contrary to the law, represented an unprecedented conflict of interest.
Most institutions contacted by FV communicated openly and transparently, and information was readily provided; however, a request by FV to meet with the CEB was denied, and a similar request to the bureau for out-of-country voting remained unanswered.
Election day was generally well organized in most polling stations observed, and legal provisions were respected. FV observers reported no major incidents and did not identify systematic irregularities that could have affected voting or counting. SIMPV functioned normally in most polling stations observed. Most observers noted that polling boards did not meet difficulties while filling in results protocols. In line with the law, results protocols were displayed publicly and uploaded to the CEB website. Some errors were identified and corrected in the software used for tabulation. During tabulation, the CEB had to issue a decision to correct the protocol for out of country voting.
For more details on election day, see the FV preliminary report.
The access of persons with disabilities was enhanced compared to previous elections, as a new legal provision allowed voters with reduced mobility to vote on supplementary lists at any accessible polling station. However, provisions for mobile voting remain restrictive, as applications can only be submitted during a two-hour period on the day before the poll. No voting instruments were provided to visually impaired voters to mark their ballots without assistance. Voter information spots published by the PEA included sign language interpretation.
Out-of-country polling stations registered the highest historical turnout. The process was considerably improved by new regulations that introduced advanced voting on Friday and Saturday before Election Day, supplementary lists in electronic format, a higher number of SIMPV tablets and of polling board members, as well as the possibility for all commission members to act as SIMPV operators. The institutions involved in organizing voting abroad made considerable efforts to organize a much higher number of polling stations than in previous elections.
Postal voting was used by a relatively limited number of voters, albeit higher than when it was first introduced in 2016. A series of positive new regulations allowed voters to send their ballots to diplomatic offices, to be informed by the PEA whether their envelopes had been received and registered by the legal deadline, and, if it was not the case, to vote in polling stations on election day. A total of 6,599 envelopes reached the bureau for postal voting after the legal deadline and were annulled. The legislation on postal voting is at times contradictory and unclear. Technical shortcomings included inadequate voting materials (especially seals), voters’ insufficient understanding of the procedures, and slow processing by postal services in some countries. FV observers visited the three electoral bureaus for postal voting established in Bucharest before each round; considerable shortcomings were noted during the counting of votes in the first round, mainly caused by the bureaus’ excessive workload (as each of them received over 7,000 votes) and improper working conditions.
- The election legislation should be harmonized to address gaps and inconstancies. This could be done through an Election Code that would provide a unified legal framework. Such Code should be adopted in broad and inclusive public consultation well in advance of the next election.
2. The election law should provide that the meetings of electoral administration bodies at any level are public.
3. The law should allow independent candidates to nominate representatives to electoral bureaus.
4. The transparency of the Central Technical Commission could be increased by constantly publishing information on its activities and by inviting experts and representatives of the relevant non-governmental organizations to its sessions.
Voter Registration and Voter Lists
- The legal framework should be brought in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, by removing restrictions on the right to vote based on intellectual or mental disabilities.
- The election law should clarify the procedure of verification and access to voter lists, in accordance with the principles of transparency and personal data protection.
- The election law should be amended to harmonize provisions on registration and voting on permanent voter lists for out-of-country voters.
- In order to encourage political participation, the number of support signatures required by the law, both for candidates nominated by parties and alliances and for independent candidates, should be less than 1 per cent of the total number of registered voters.
- Support signatures should be verified through an efficient and transparent mechanism, in line with the Venice Commission’s Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters.
- The law should be amended to provide less restrictive regulation on outdoor campaign materials. In addition, the law should include clear, reasonable and uniform regulations on electoral campaign activities carried out by parties, regardless whether during the official campaign period or before.
Party and Campaign Finance
- The law should be amended to reduce the ceilings for subsidies.
- Thresholds for receiving subsidies for political parties should be lowered to take into account votes received in mayoral and local council elections.
- The law should be amended to increase the proportion of subsidies granted to parties based on local election results.
- The law should require all materials promoting a party or candidate to contain information about who ordered them, who produced them, and the number of copies, if applicable.
- The law should provide for observation of all aspects and stages of the election process.
- The legal framework should be amended to extend the observer accreditation procedure as regulated by Law 2018/2015 (art.89) to all types of elections.
- To increase the transparency of the electoral process, the right to appoint party observers (delegates) currently granted to parties, alliances and minorities’ organizations that are not represented in election bureaus should be extended to independent candidates.
- The organizations that accredit observers should be bona fide organizations and should not have interests regarding the outcome of the elections, or support any electoral competitors.
- In order to provide accurate voter information ahead of an election, the authorities should publish voter information materials in a timely manner and disseminate them on a large scale. The platform ro for registering out-of-country voters should be promoted through a more active voter information programme.
Participation of Persons with Disabilities
- The law should be amended to extend the period for submission of mobile voting applications.
- Further measures should be taken to ensure unimpeded access of persons with disabilities to the electoral process, both by providing disabled access to as many polling stations as possible and by publishing all information on voting procedures in a format that meets the needs of voters with hearing or visual impairments.
Tabulation of Results
- Election authorities should undertake increased efforts to ensure that the software used for results tabulation is not prone to errors that might affect the integrity and credibility of the electoral process.
- The functioning of the ro platform could be regulated in more detail through the law.
- The law should be amended to reduce the number of voters assigned to an electoral bureau for postal voting.
- Election legislation should be amended to clarify the meaning of the term “unsealed.”