2018-06-08 / Travel

Lithuania, a new democracy, a new friend

Part 11: Voting in Lithuania
By Warner M. Montgomery, Ph.D.
WarnerM@ TheColumbiaStar.com

Andrius’s identification is checked. Andrius’s identification is checked. Lithuania is a new democratic republic. After suffering 50 years as a Soviet Republic under the domination of Russia, the small Baltic nation is struggling to establish itself as a contributing member of the European Union, NATO, and the United Nations.

A 1996 national law established voting rights quite different from any system previously used in Lithuania. It was in effect when I visited in 2004. All citizens over the age of 18 were eligible to vote. There could be no restrictions on the grounds of gender, race, nationality, language, ethnicity, social status, religion, criminal convictions, or political opinions.

Candidates for public office could not nominate themselves or be nominated by a political party. All candidates were guaranteed the right to campaign at public meetings and in the mass media free of charge. During the campaign, candidates were immune from arrest. No campaigning was allowed 30 hours preceding voting day.

Andrius’s name is checked off the voting list. Andrius’s name is checked off the voting list. A national committee organized elections for the president, and local (town and regional) committees organized elections for the Seimas (parliament). These committees compiled and maintained voter lists of citizens permanently residing in their jurisdiction. These voter lists were made public 25 days before an election. Voters reported to their respective polling places in person between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

No polling place could have more than 5,000 voters. Depending on the number of voters, the staff at the polling place consisted of five to 20 people who had 18–24 hours of training. There were special rules for voting by mail, in diplomatic missions abroad, on ships, in medical facilities, in certain institutions, in military units, and in jails and prisons.

Andrius signs the voting form. Andrius signs the voting form. The voters showed their identification, were checked against the voting list, then proceeded to a private booth where they manually marked a paper ballot. The ballots were stuffed in a box. At the end of the day, the local committee counted the ballots and reported them to the national committee. Results had to be announced within five days.

While I was in Lithuania in September 2004, I was fortunate to be able to accompany my friend, Andrius Sprindziunas, to the polls. He explained to the clerk I was an American journalist and would like to take photographs. She graciously welcomed me and gave me permission.

Andrius went through the steps: presenting his identification, signing the registration list, receiving the ballot, marking the ballot in secret, and depositing the ballot in the box. This simple procedure is the essence of democracy. It allows the people to select their leaders and rid themselves of those who abuse the law. To see it happen, one voter at a time, means a new era was beginning in Eastern Europe.

Andrius receives the ballot. Andrius receives the ballot. Next week: Last night on the town

Andrius enters the voting booth. Andrius enters the voting booth.

Andrius places his ballot in the box. Andrius places his ballot in the box.

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