What did Greeks abroad think about the postal vote?

What did Greeks abroad think about the postal vote?

“For us Greeks living abroad, postal voting has been a request for many years, a policy that not so long ago seemed like a midsummer night’s dream,” says Nicolas, a Greek who is based in London with his wife and two children. “We voted by mail this year, and we would probably do the same even if we lived in Greece – for a couple with parental and work responsibilities, who vote in different regions of Greece, the measure is tremendously helpful,” he adds with noticeable enthusiasm.

Nicolas is one of the 36,645 Greeks living abroad who participated in this year’s European elections from their country of residence, using the postal voting option that was established for the first time in Greece this past April.

A total of 202,515 people completed their registration to vote by mail between mid-February and end-April, when the platform for the procedure closed, out of whom slightly more than 50,000 were Greeks residing outside the country’s borders. With a participation rate of 73% for Greeks abroad, and a total of 1.3% invalid ballots, the measure was deemed a moderate success by government officials, though some thorns in the procedure have already been identified.

The same sentiment seems to be shared by the Greeks who live abroad who chose to vote by mail for the first time. Out of over 60 Greeks who responded to Kathimerini English Edition, sharing their thoughts and reflections on the process, the overwhelming majority said that they had a positive experience, despite a few bumps that they highlighted in hopes that they could be improved in the future.

Instructions ‘for dummies’

By early May, tens of thousands of electoral folders had been dispatched to the Greeks abroad who had registered – they included a postal ballot return envelope, an anonymous voting envelope, a ballot paper with all the parties, a list of candidates and a rather lengthy instruction booklet that outlined the procedure.

“The directions in the booklet that arrived, telling us how to vote, were as dumbed down as possible to ensure that no mistakes were made,” a Greek from New York told Kathimerini English Edition, adding that she was “amused at how much they broke down the process to ensure I would have no questions about what to do.”

Others, like Constantinos, who resides in Sheffield and also voted by mail, thought the booklet may have actually gone a step too far. “The instructions were clear but quite lengthy; the booklet was over 10 pages, which I found to be a bit excessive and potentially off-putting for some,” he argued. “Many friends of mine reached out for clarifications, on various steps, especially regarding the step of identity verification.”

The identity verification step – which included the option of either completing an online statutory declaration or attaching a photocopy of one’s photo ID in the postal ballot return booklet – seems to have been a common point of annoyance for several Greeks, despite the extensive instructions. In fact, a small number of voters mistakenly mailed their actual passports and national ID cards together with their postal votes, leading to humorous coverage in the Greek press.

“For a first-time implementation, the process was OK but it could be improved,” another Greek voter based in Europe told Kathimerini English Edition, claiming that instructions could be clearer by virtue of being shorter. “For example, the option of photocopying one’s ID caused unnecessary confusion and made some worry about the anonymity of their vote.”

Romanos, who voted by mail from Belgium, thinks that in retrospect the process seems quite simple, but he argued that “someone with a busy work schedule and family responsibilities might not be able to spare their meager free time and energy to sit down and read all the instructions carefully.” In the place of the lengthy booklet, he had a more contemporary suggestion: “In the future, I would suggest including a QR code with a 90-second video or images, it could be much easier to follow, as unfortunately we live in an age where people’s attention span has shrunk.”

Theo, a teacher based in the UK, agreed with this recommendation. “Here in the UK, the corresponding service comes with a QR code that leads to a YouTube link, which explains all instructions very clearly,” he told Kathimerini English Edition.

Challenges with mail

Despite the lengthy instructions that may have been too wordy for some, most Greeks were happy with the process handled by the Greek state, and several of them hailed the fact that they received a message informing them that their vote had been successfully received. However, feedback regarding the postal companies that handled the mail process was more mixed.

The identity verification step seems to have been a common point of annoyance for some Greeks, despite the extensive instructions

“Everything with the government was rather straightforward,” Panos, who is completing his undergraduate degree in the Netherlands and voted from Rotterdam, shared. “I found that DHL was actually the most disorganized part of the entire process.”

The task of dispatching the envelopes was undertaken by the courier service of ELTA and the private courier company ACS, which cooperated with the international companies DHL and UPS, respectively.

Angelos, who is currently based in Aksaray in Turkey, reported that UPS delivered the folder at his home “without me signing that I received it or being actually there, something that I thought was quite problematic.” He also faced minor challenges in sending his postal vote back to Greece, though he added that this was “the problem of UPS in the city where I reside, since their only branch here is far from the center, and it would require car transport to get there.” He ended up choosing a different company to return his ballot, and a few days later received a notification that his vote was successfully registered.

Several other Greeks also reported that finding convenient UPS stores was a difficult endeavor. “It was challenging to find a UPS point that was open past 6 p.m. in France,” said one, while another Greek based in Germany added that “it was complex to find a UPS in my region, though I could have scheduled for them to come to my home to pick it up.”

A Greek based in Sweden also highlighted that “the only thorny step in the entire process was the delay of UPS in delivering my electoral folder.”

Room for improvement

Most Greeks who reside in places with significant expat or diaspora communities thought that postal mail was quite widely and successfully advertised. “In New York City, if you’re a Greek engaged in what’s going on in Greece, it was almost impossible to miss the advertising for this,” said one Greek voter, who added that she received multiple targeted radio and YouTube ads.

Angelos from Canada, however, had a different experience. “I don’t think it was advertised enough,” he told Kathimerini English Edition. “I actually found out about the process through an email that was sent to my junk folder by a local Greek organization. It was not sufficiently promoted at a general scale here in Canada by any of the leading Greek-Canadian organizations, including the consulates and embassy,” he lamented. He also believes that in the future consulates and embassies could take more of a leading role and have the ability to count votes on site, “which may save the government a lot of money as DHL shipping is quite expensive.”

Others believe that the Ministry of Interior itself could have been more extrovert and more responsive throughout the entire process. “Customer support in the ministry was very difficult to reach,” said a Greek who resides in the Netherlands, who added that he faced problems with submitting the digital statutory declaration. “When I was finally able to get a hold, they didn’t manage to provide any solution to my problem,” he added.

Differences in results

Another interesting part of the postal vote process, which was revealed after polls had already closed on Sunday, was the noticeable difference in the way Greeks abroad voted in these European elections compared to the Greeks back at home.

Greek voters from outside of Greece gave New Democracy 40.17% of the vote, far exceeding the 28.31% that it managed to secure in the overall tally, whereas SYRIZA managed to collect only 11.14% of the postal votes of Greeks abroad. Additionally, one of the starkest differences was the support for left-wing MeRA25 party, led by former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, which managed to come in third place with 9.22% of the vote of Greeks living abroad – despite a disappointing performance in the overall count that rendered it unable to elect a candidate in the European Parliament.

“I am not that surprised, Yanis is still popular in the UK and many parts of Europe,” said Stella, who has been living in London for over a decade, noting that the discrepancy in support may be because “he is actually, surprisingly, more present in British public discourse than any other contemporary Greek politician.”

What’s more, the three far-right parties Greek Solution, Niki and Voice of Reason – which many analysts considered to be among the victors of the election – all failed to collect more than 3% of the vote from Greeks living outside of Greece.

“I am not sure that there is a different profile for the Greek voter abroad. I think the communications extroversion of different parties, coupled with domestic associations, plays a bigger role, hence why ND dominated and Varoufakis came third,” said Panos Koliastasis, adjunct lecturer in politics at the Hellenic Open University, when dissecting the results of the postal vote for Greeks outside of Greece. “I think the introversion of far-right parties may explain their mediocre performance, while questioning the immutability of the process may have played a role for both SYRIZA and the far-right,” he added, referring to the fact that both members of SYRIZA and many far-right politicians had argued that the postal vote measure may be subject to electoral fraud.

“But also, perhaps the fact that opposition parties voted against the postal vote measure might have had a role to play in the different results,” concluded Koliastasis.

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