Austria Postpones Presidential Vote as Ballots Come Unglued

  • Defective envelopes for postal votes didn’t remain sealed
  • Presidential vote rescheduled for Dec. 4, according to APA

Austria’s presidential election rerun, scheduled after a court ruled votes weren’t counted properly, can’t be held as planned on Oct. 2 because of postal-ballot envelopes that don’t seal properly.

Parliamentary leaders agreed in a meeting with Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka on Monday to reschedule the vote for Dec. 4, the Austrian Press Agency reported. The government couldn’t guarantee a sound election because of the defective envelopes, Sobotka told journalists earlier at a press conference in Vienna.

“We can’t guarantee a flawless vote conforming to the law,” said Sobotka, who oversees the federal election commission. “The reason is defective mail-ballot envelopes.”

The rerun became necessary in July after Austria’s constitutional court voided a May 22 vote in which former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen beat nationalist contender Norbert Hofer by about 30,000 ballots from more than 4.5 million cast. While the Austrian president has a largely ceremonial role, he or she can dismiss the government and call fresh elections.

Acrimony

The delay could add fresh acrimony to the campaigns, which already laid bare deep divisions about refugee and immigrant policies, as well as about the European Union. Hofer tried to capitalize on the decision to delay the vote by calling the government incompetent and responsible for the defective ballots. He suggested at a rally on Saturday at a rally in the Upper Austrian city of Wels that the delay may be intentional.

His Freedom Party said the government should restrict postal voting instead of postponing the vote and thereby “damaging Austria’s reputation.” Interior ministry officials said this wasn’t possible based on the rules governing the current election. Voters who cast their ballots via mail disproportionately favored Van der Bellen in the last election round.

Sobotka said he’d also prefer to update the voter register in time for the next round because thousands will have either reached the legal voting age or passed away by then. Parliament would need to approve this step with a two-thirds majority, he said.

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