Residency requirements should not be excessive, or may be considered discriminatory.
- Each Party undertakes, subject to the provisions of Article 9, paragraph 1, to grant to every foreign resident the right to vote and to stand for election in local authority elections, provided that he fulfils the same legal requirements as apply to nationals and furthermore has been a lawful and habitual resident in the State concerned for the 5 years preceding the elections.
- The Court reiterates that national practices concerning voting rights for expatriates and the exercise of such rights are far from being uniform across the States Parties. Broadly speaking, Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 does not impose on States Parties any obligation to enable citizens resident abroad to exercise their right to vote (see Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos [GC], cited above, §§ 74 and 75). Furthermore, the work of the Venice Commission has shown that withholding or limiting the voting rights of expatriates does not amount to a restriction on the principle of universal suffrage. In fact, the different interests involved should be weighed up, including the State’s choice to enable its expatriate citizens to exercise their voting rights, practical and security considerations relating to the exercise of this right, and the technical arrangements for implementing it.
- As regards restrictions on the exercise of the right to vote abroad based on the criterion of the voter’s place of residence, Convention institutions have in the past accepted several reasons justifying such restrictions: first of all, the presumption that a non-resident citizen is less directly or less continually concerned with his country’s day-to-day problems and has less knowledge of them; secondly, the fact that it is impracticable for the parliamentary candidates to present the different electoral issues to citizens abroad and that non-resident citizens have no influence on the selection of candidates or on the formulation of their electoral programmes; thirdly, the close connection between the right to vote in parliamentary elections and the fact of being directly affected by the acts of the political bodies so elected; and, fourthly, the legitimate concern the legislature may have to limit the influence of citizens living abroad in elections on issues which, while admittedly fundamental, primarily affect persons living in the country (see Hilbe v. Liechtenstein (dec.), no. 31981/96, ECHR 1999-VI ; X and association Y v. Italy, no. 8987/80, Commission decision of 6 May 1981, Decisions and Reports (DR) 24, p. 192 ; and Polacco and Garofalo v. Italy, no. 23450/94, Commission decision of 15 September 1997, DR 90-B, p. 5). More recently the Court held that having to satisfy a residence or length-of-residence requirement in order to have or exercise the right to vote in elections is not, in principle, an arbitrary restriction of the right to vote and is therefore not incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (see Doyle v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 30158/06, 6 February 2007, and Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos v. Greece [GC], no. 42202/07, § 69, ECHR 2012).
- Persons who are otherwise eligible to stand for election should not be excluded by unreasonable or discriminatory requirements such as …residence or descent.
- While residency requirements are in principle a permissible restriction to this right, they must be reasonable. The criterion of reasonableness is arguably not complied with, when residence requirements in domestic laws prevent the political participation of IDPs, especially after forcible displacement.
- Along similar lines, standards of the Council of Europe require member states to “grant electoral rights to all their citizens (nationals), without imposing residency requirements”, “to take appropriate legal and practical measures to enable internally displaced persons to effectively exercise their right to vote in national, regional or local elections and to ensure that this right is not infringed by obstacles of a practical nature” and “ to ensure that IDPs can exercise their right to participate in public affairs at all levels, including their right to vote or stand for election, which may require special measures such as IDP voter registration drives, or absentee ballots”.
- There is thus no ‘best procedure’ for external voting. Much will depend on the context, such as the infrastructure of those foreign countries where external voting is to be held. The decision on suitability will depend on the costs and practical aspects of the different procedures for external voting (...).
- Entitlement to cast an external vote is usually linked to the general entitlement to vote that applies to all eligible electors in a country. However, there are sometimes extra requirements imposed on external electors, such as a minimum period of previous residence or an intention to return to the country. In some cases only limited groups of external electors may be eligible to vote, such as diplomats, other public officials and members of the armed forces, and their families.
- Particularly where the right to vote is extended to all citizens who are resident abroad, regardless of intention to return, it may be desirable to have stricter eligibility rules for candidates. This would usually take the form of a residence requirement.
- The security and control of registration and voting materials require special attention for external voting. Security is as essential externally as it is internally but there is the added challenge of securing sensitive materials during transport to and from several countries.
- Discrimination need not be deliberate. It may arise unintentionally. A neutral criterion may operate in certain circumstances in a discriminatory way. For example, residence is a common requirement for eligibility to vote in a constituency based electoral system. That requirement may however operate in a discriminatory way in respect of refugees (meaning citizens or permanent residents of the State who have fled abroad), nomadic peoples or internally displaced persons. Residency requirements may discriminate against national minorities.
- In most cases the duties and responsibilities of countries hosting foreign electoral activity on their soil are minimal, being confined to the role of facilitator rather than that of organizer or implementer. While host countries can assist in the external voting process, their role should not threaten the secrecy of the ballot or the neutrality or transparency of the programme. It is critical that external voting programmes be conducted without political or government influence or interference.
- [T]he right to vote and to be elected may be accorded to citizens residing abroad.
- Reasonable requirements are usually limited to minimum age, nationality ... The work of the Human Rights Committee provides a good deal of guidance on the limits of reasonable restrictions. In the course of their deliberations, as mandated by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, members of the Committee have noted that the following limitations on voting rights are not permissible: (b) excessive residency requirements.
- A country...may...permit noncitizen residents to vote.