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Who could benefit from voter registration?

June 2nd, 2012

Commentators discuss the government’s plan to introduce mandatory voter registration, and caution that pre-registration may not be a useful tool to keep angry, politically under-informed and possibly radical voters away from the ballot box.

As Index reports, several Fidesz politicians have recently confirmed that  the governing centre-right party is seriously considering the introduction of mandatory pre-registration for voters (see BudaPost October 15, 2011) from the 2014 parliamentary elections onwards. PM Viktor Orbán and House Speaker László Kövér are reported to support the idea, while President János Áder is against it. According to its supporters in Fidesz, mandatory registration would be helpful in keeping last minute angry voters with little understanding of politics away from the ballot box, and thus could help to reduce the populist tone of electoral campaigns.

Those who do not consider democracy important enough and find pre-registration too cumbersome, should not vote, Szilárd Szőnyi writes in Heti Válasz. He finds it reasonable on the part of the government to try and confine voting to those who are interested enough in politics to register well before the elections.

Szőnyi, however, points out that the proposal may have serious consequences. In smaller municipalities it would further decrease turnout and thereby compromise the democratic legitimacy of the elections. Speculating on the possible effects on the outcome of the election, Szőnyi notes that pre-registration would probably favour Fidesz, the party with the strongest network in the countryside, but could also increase the influence of highly determined voters who are fed up with the current government’s politics. Taking all this together, mandatory registration may not be  beneficial for Fidesz at all, Szőnyi contends.

In Népszava, Tibor Lengyel believes that the proposed voter registration is a sequel to the new electoral law (see BudaPost November 30, 2011), and represents another attempt to entrench the power of Fidesz. Since Fidesz is the best organized party, it can easily mobilize its supporters, while other parties may not be as successful in convincing their sympathizers to register before the elections.

Quoting political analyst Róbert László, the left-wing columnist warns that pre-registration would not keep away irrational voters who are eager to fall for the promises of demagogues. On the contrary, voter registration would increase the influence of highly motivated fanatics, rather than the reasonable voters, Lengyel argues. At the end of the day, Jobbik, whose sympathizers can be mobilized easily, may benefit the most from pre-registration, the left-wing commentator fears.

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