June elections are ‘uncharted territory’

Officials are bracing for the logistical nightmare of the upcoming local and European elections, featuring a smorgasbord of as many as 20,000 candidates vying for the 3,500 public offices up for grabs. It has never been done before, and once it’s all over it will usher in the new system of local administration.

The June 9 elections are being held for members of the European Parliament and local authorities, which covers mayors, deputy mayors, municipal council members, community leaders, community council members, presidents of district self-government organisations and school board members.

In a way, it’s eight different elections in one go.

“It’s uncharted territory, we’re all learning along the way,” concedes Menelaos Vasiliou, the chief returning officer. “And even though we’ve prepared for months, for sure the challenge is keeping us alert.”

The official tells the Sunday Mail that around 10,000 workers will be needed to staff the polling stations across the island. They’re calling on civil servants and persons registered as unemployed to apply for a spot; apparently the pay for the day’s work is quite good. Applications may be filed by April 11.

Authorities will need all the help they can get. In prior elections, 600 voters had been assigned to a polling station. But because of the complexity of the voting mechanics – more on that later – this time around each polling station will have 400 to 450 voters assigned to it. Automatically that means setting up more stations, more ballot boxes, more equipment and more personnel.

Eligible to vote are all citizens of the Republic aged 18 and over, who have their habitual residence in Cyprus, as well as European citizens residing in Cyprus, who are also registered in the relevant electoral rolls.

For urban areas headed by a mayor, voters may have to fill out up to six ballots – for MEP, mayor, deputy mayor, municipal councilors, the presidents of the district self-government organisation, and the school board members.

In rural communities, four ballots will be handed out. For the so-called ‘occupied’ municipalities, there will be three ballots.

That makes for three different types of polling stations. And the ballots will be colour-coded.

Then you have the polling stations overseas. According to the permanent secretary at the interior ministry, Elikkos Elia, such stations will operate at the following locations: Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra, Komotini, Volos, Heraclion, Ioannina; and London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Brussels.

Elia said 25,914 individuals have applied to vote for the first time. This includes 12,868 Cypriot citizens. In total, 103 applications were filed by Turkish Cypriots.

Regarding the special electoral roll for non-Cypriot EU nationals voting for local government, 10,146 applications have been filed. In addition, 2,900 applications by EU nationals wanting to vote for MEPs.

As for the hopefuls – all 3,500 of them – they will submit their candidacy on April 24 for MEP, followed by the filing of candidacies for local government elections on 25 and 29 April.

Despite the complexity, Vasiliou is cautiously optimistic the process will go smoothly. He said they’ve run simulations on how long it would take for someone to fill out up to six ballots – about four to five minutes.

Officials even tested the ballot boxes to see if they could fit all the pieces of paper. Theoretically, in places where each voter gets six ballots, up to 2,500 ballots may be dropped in the box. The good news is that they all fit – so one less headache.

Meanwhile instructions have been issued to election officers to give priority to the counting and sorting of ballots for MEP candidates.

Vasiliou estimates the final results for the European Parliament vote will be announced by midnight on June 9, or in the early morning hours of June 10. The final tallies for the local government public offices should come out on June 10 as well. Obviously, there will be constant updates after the polls close. Results will be posted on elections.gov.cy in three languages – English, Greek, and Turkish.

The formal declaration of the MEP winners will take place on June 10 in Nicosia, at the international conference centre as usual. The winners of local government elections will be declared on Tuesday, at designated venues in each district.

And the budget for the entire undertaking comes to €6.65 million.

Vasiliou understands that the intricacy of the process will have many people confused. So either on May 1 or May 2 authorities will launch the ‘What I Vote For’ app – letting folks know what public offices they will vote for, depending on where they live. The app will get rolled out only once the list of candidates is finalised.

Next, ten days later, the ‘Where I Vote’ app will be made available to the public.

But if election officials are keeping their fingers crossed, imagine what the average engaged voter must be thinking.

As political commentator Christoforos Christoforou points out, in Nicosia for instance there will be about ten political groupings to choose from. And that’s on top of dealing with the multiple ballots.

“So, let’s say someone wants to vote for [Constantinos] Yiorkadjis…OK but what office is he running for?”

He adds: “There are just too many public offices in contention. People grumble, for example, that voting for deputy mayor makes little sense.”

Up until now, deputy mayors were not elected directly by the people, but internally by municipal councilors. Incidentally, deputy mayors did not previously draw a salary, just an allowance for attending meetings. Now, under the new system, they will receive a full salary.

Speaking of, about 90 deputy mayors will get elected. Yes 90. If you happen to inhabit the newly-designated Municipality of Polis – a conglomeration of the surrounding villages – you’ll have to make your mark for about a dozen deputy mayors.

“If the public offices are 3,500, then maybe as many as 20,000 people will stand as candidates. It’s almost like everyone and their mother will run for office,” jokes Christoforou.

The analyst says the sheer complexity will likely lead to errors.

“In addition to counting the ballots, they also need sorting. So you’re going to have separate stacks for the various public offices.”

Municipal elections were last held back in December 2016. Although next set to take place in December 2021, they were deferred to 2024 due to the new system of local government coming in.

Officials say they hope June 9 will be “a celebration of democracy.”

Christoforou remains skeptical. Given the traditional low turnout for both European Parliament and local government elections, he says, “turnout this year might be even lower because of the more complicated process.”

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Courtesy of Cyprus Mail | News