Key achievements in 2020
In 2020, 33 meetings of the Central Election Commission (CEC) took place, with a total of 46 decisions on issues relating to the preparation and conduct of elections, legislative proposals and collections of signatures. Various proposals for improving the legislative framework for elections, referenda and legislative proposals were discussed in the CEC meetings. This year the CEC also continued its work to ensure uniform and correct application of the laws governing the electoral field, as well as to promote awareness and knowledge of the voters and Latvian citizens about the procedures for elections, referenda and legislative proposals.
Work on improving regulatory frameworks
Representatives of the CEC have participated in meetings of the Saeima commissions, advising lawmakers on issues related to the development of electoral legislation. In 2020, the Saeima supported the amendments made jointly by the CEC with the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA) to the City Council and Municipality Council Election Law and the Electoral Register Law, which provides for the introduction of an electronic online voter register and will enable voters to vote in municipal elections at any polling station of their local government. Using the data exchange system, the possibility to vote at any polling station in Riga was ensured for voters in the extraordinary elections to the Riga City Council.
Representatives of the CEC have also participated in elaboration of other amendments to the City Council and Municipality Council Election Law, supported by the Saeima, which will enable voters staying abroad during the elections to vote by post. This option will be open to voters in the 2021 municipal elections.
This year, the Saeima also reviewed the conditions for collecting signatures and in final reading supported the CEC proposed improvements in the Law on National Referendums, Legislative Initiatives and European Citizens’ Initiative, which takes effect on 31 December. In future, voters abroad will be provided with the possibility to sign up for a draft law registered by the CEC, draft amendments to the Constitution or a proposal for revocation of the Saeima in person – in diplomatic or consular missions of the Republic of Latvia, with a consular official entitled to perform notarial functions. At the same time, the change also means that the voter will no longer have to deliver his or her signature form to the initiative group so that it could be submit it to the CEC. In view of the fact that signatures are recorded electronically in the CEC's signature collection system, including when signed in person, such a requirement had become inappropriate and created an additional administrative burden for voters.
Collection of signatures for the President’s suspended laws
At the beginning of 2020, the priority of the CEC was to organise the collection of signatures for the initiation of a national referendum on the laws suspended by the President “Amendments to the City Council and Municipality Council Election Law,” and “Amendment to the Law on Local Governments”. The amendments were intended to change the term of office of the municipal council in the event of an emergency election, namely to determine that if more than 24 months have remained until the current elections, the new municipal council shall be elected in emergency elections for the term of office of the dissolved council. On the other hand, if there are nine to 24 months remaining until the current elections, the new municipal council shall be elected for the remainder of its term of office of the dissolved council and for a further four years' term of office. The amendments also stipulated if less than nine months remained until the current municipal elections, no new elections are held and a temporary administration is running until the current municipal elections.
The collection of signatures on suspended laws took place from 16 January to 14 February 2020. 358 signature collection sites in Latvia and 41 signature collection sites abroad were created for the collection of signatures.
During the collection of signatures, 6,007 or 0.39% of voters signed for the submitting of amendments to the City Council and Municipality Council Election Law to the referendum, while the submitting of the amendment to the Law on Local Governments to the referendum supported 5,956 or 0.38% of voters.
The collection of signatures had to be organised because 41 Members of the Saeima used the possibility provided for in the Constitution to ask the President to suspend the publication of the laws for a period of two months. In such a case, the Law on National Referendums, Legislative Initiatives and European Citizens’ Initiative provides that in order to ascertain whether the submitting of a suspended law to the referendum is supported by not less than one-tenth of the electorate, the collection of signatures should take place for 30 days, including weekends and holidays.
Extraordinary elections to the Riga City Council
At the end of 2019, the Cabinet submitted to the Saeima the draft Law on Dissolution of the Riga City Council prepared by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, which caused wide public resonance and discussions in parliament. Initially the law stipulated to hold new Riga City Council elections on 29 February 2020. In the final reading, the Law on Dissolution of the Riga City Council was adopted in the Saeima on 13 February 2020. The date of the elections to the Riga City Council was postponed several times due to the state's emergency situation and the restrictions imposed to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Thus, the holding of the Riga City Council elections, which took place on 29 August, became one of the priorities of the Central Election Commission in 2020. Three days – from 26 to 28 August - voters were allowed to vote early. 171,507 or 40.58% of voters participated in elections. There were 422,681 eligible voters registered in the voter lists for the Riga City Council election. There were 18,488 times, when voters used the opportunity provided by voter data exchange and registered to vote at another polling station.
The elections had to be held not only in the short-term, but the spread of Covid-19 posed an additional challenge. In order to reduce the risks of the spread of the virus infection Covid-19 in the Riga City Council elections, the CEC has approved the Recommendations on the Covid-19 infection prevention at the polling stations in the Riga City Council elections, in the preparation of which recommendations made by the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control were considered.
Development of the electoral administration system
In June this year, the CEC launched a public procurement procedure for the development and implementation of the electoral management system base and the module of municipal elections. This procurement implements the conceptual decision adopted in 2019 to purchase electoral management systems in state ownership in order to mitigate the risks related to the taking a lease of the system on the basis of outsourcing. At the same time, the state ownership of the electoral administration system will allow better planning and implementation of the improvements needed for the development of the system and its easier use in extraordinary elections.
The electoral management system should be capable of managing electoral components such as drawing up, submitting, accepting, registering and publishing of candidate lists, preparing of machine-readable layouts of ballot papers, scanning of ballot papers, the electronic journal of the voting process for election commissions and polling stations, election results tallying and publishing, producing statistical reports and archiving data.
Registered voter initiatives
In 2020, the CEC registered a total of five voter initiatives for collection of signatures, four of them for collecting signatures on amendments to laws and the Constitution, and one initiative for initiating a referendum on the revocation of the Saeima. Meanwhile, after consulting the information submitted and the views of other institutions, registration of one initiative was refused because the draft law was not fully elaborated and did not comply with Article 78 of the Constitution.
Establishment of municipal election commissions for new administrative territories
Unlike previous municipal elections, the elections of 5 June 2021 will have a significantly lower number of municipal councils and councillors to be elected. The Administrative territorial reform envisages that there will be 42 local governments in Latvia instead of present 119, while the number of councillors to be elected will fall by almost half.
The 2021 municipal elections will take place in the new administrative areas – 35 county municipal territories and 6 city municipal territories, with the exception of Riga, whose council was elected in extraordinary elections on 29 August 2020, and whose term will last until the 2025 municipal elections.
By 1 December 2020, the general meetings of the municipalities to be joined elected municipal election commissions of newly established municipalities for the preparation of the next year's municipal elections. The elections will be prepared by 41 municipal election commissions, 28 of which have been newly formed. One of them, the election commission of the newly formed Kraslava municipality, was appointed by the CEC because the general meeting of councillors of the municipalities to be joined had not taken into account the Transition Rule of the Law on Administrative Territories and Populated Areas, which stipulates that the number of councillors’ voices of each municipality to be joined should be proportional to the total population of the municipality, but councillors from the Aglona municipality were not invited to attend the meeting in which the municipal election commission of the newly formed countu municipal territory was elected.
Priorities for 2021
Organising of municipal elections
The Central Election Commission's top priority next year will be preparing and ensuring municipal elections to be held on 5 June 2021. In these elections, there are a number of important news for voters – the elections will take place in the new administrative areas – 41 municipalities, voters will be able to vote at any polling station of their constituency, as well there will be an opportunity to vote by post from abroad, and the introduction of these opportunities requires a great deal of preparation.
As early as September 2019, the Central Election Commission presented the Saeima Public Administration and Local Government Commission with the intention of introducing an online voter register at polling stations in the 2021 municipal elections, which would allow voters to vote at any polling stations of their municipality at the same time ensuring the principle of “one voter, one vote”. It is planned that at the polling station an employee of the election commission will scan the voter's passport or identity card and make sure that the voter is on the electoral list of the respective municipality and that there is no indication of his or her participation in the elections in the register. The system will register the voter in the electronic voter list, while a member of the polling station commission will add the voter to the voters list in paper form, where the voter will sign up for the receipt of electoral materials.
The OCMA will draw up an electronic voter list for each municipality. The application for online voter registration has been purchased in state ownership and financed from the funds allocated to the OCMA budget to ensure the electoral process. A procurement for the smart-device lease will be held in January 2021 to ensure an online voter register. At the beginning of the year, CEC will also carry out procurements for the production of ballot envelopes, ballot papers, informational advertisements and the CEC hotline service.
Voters will be able to apply for postal voting from abroad in municipal elections between the 70th and the 42nd day before Election Day, that will be between 27 March and 24 April.
Preparations for the Saeima election in 2022
Next year, active work will also take place on the preparation of the 14th Saeima elections on 1 October 2022. Work will be continued on the drafting of amendments to the Saeima Election Law and the Electoral Register Law, so that it could be possible to introduce and use an online voter register in polling stations in the Saeima elections of 2022, thereby enabling voters with only a personal identity card to participate in elections without additional burdens (receiving a voter certificate).
Increase of the remuneration of employees of polling station commissions
One of the key priorities of the CEC in 2021 will also be the work on developing proposals to raise wages for members and employees of municipal election commissions and polling stations election commissions. The rates of remuneration for members of the election commissions have not been raised for many years in national elections, so that remuneration is no longer competitive. In 2019, the focus group survey of municipal election commissions and polling station commissions conducted on the CEC's order highlighted this area as important, since the low pay for election commission and polling station commission employees makes them to feel undervalued and makes it difficult to attract qualified employees.
Training of members and employees of municipal election commissions
Training of members and staff of election commissions is planned to be developed and organised in 2021 in order to raise professional knowledge and skills. In view of the fact that polling stations are set up 40 days before the elections and employees need to learn a large amount of information in the short term, it is particularly important to organise centralised training and to prepare up-to-date training materials so that members and employees of polling commissions are better prepared to work in polling stations.
Improving the electoral administration system
The preparation and implementation of the electoral management system base and municipal election module will be completed in 2021, as well as work will continue to replenish the system by developing and purchasing the Saeima election management module.
CEC Information Department
Tel. 67814900, 20237331