The Venice Commission and ODIHR have issued a joint urgent opinion on the electoral amendment bill put forward in March by the ruling Georgian Dream and opposition Citizens parties, highlighting that it leaves “many fundamental issues” unaddressed despite some positive changes.
Noteworthy that the legislative initiative is set to be revised as per the EU-mediated April 19 agreement, which includes additional provisions and reforms.
Regarding the proposed changes to the election of Central Election Commission members, the joint opinion highlighted that nine political parties will be entitled to appointing one member each, a “significant change” from the existing proportional appointment procedure. However, the document recommended removing provisions stipulating that only the parties that are eligible to state funding and have at least one member carrying out an MP’s duty shall be allowed to appoint the members.
As for the eight independent members of CEC, appointed by a parliamentary majority, the Venice Commission and ODIHR recommended considering introducing either a qualified or double majority vote with an anti-deadlock mechanism to “guarantee the independence and impartiality of the highest election body.”
The Venice Commission and ODIHR issued the same recommendation regarding the appointment of the CEC Chairperson by the Parliament, which takes place only if the CEC members fail to elect the chair within a given time frame.
As for the misuse of administrative resources, the opinion welcomed that the bill broadens the list of those banned from participating in campaigning activities to include all civil servants, and clarifies the definition of public school teachers to cover directors and all other employees also. Still, the Venice Commission and ODIHR said a more comprehensive and systemic regulation is necessary, as the draft changes do not address for example social media campaigning activities.
The “piecemeal and narrow” amendments envisaging ban on gathering people and tracking voters within 100 meters of the polling station, do not address “long standing Vence Commission and ODIHR recommendations to include a general prohibition against any types of campaign activity starting 24 hours prior to elections,” the document added.
The joint opinion said that the bill introduces significant positive measures regarding summary protocol amendments and recounts. However, it noted that a comprehensive regulatory framework is necessary for the process to “ensure transparent, fair and uniform practice in the counting and tabulation of results and handling of post-election disputes.”
Moreover, the Venice Commission and ODIHR argued the bill does not address the “need for robust reform of the election dispute resolution process to ensure straight-forward access to timely, transparent, and effective resolution of disputes.” The opinion also highlighted that Georgia should consider allowing electronic submission of complaints and remote court hearings. Albeit welcoming increased time-limits for lodging complaints, the document stressed further amendments are needed to meet the minimum three-day submission and adjudication timeframe at all levels.
According to the urgent opinion, the proposed reforms also did not address a “key recommendation” for the local elections – to require single-mandate districts to be of an equal or similar voting population.
The Venice Commission and ODIHR also recommended establishing a regulatory framework for the use of new electronic voting technologies. “In light of the limited time remaining before the 2021 local elections, it may be that a pilot project for certain electronic technologies is the only viable option for the next elections,” the document said.