Latvians abroad give overwhelming support to EU

Latvian citizens in Sydney, Australia, might well be pondering who the one naysayer is who voted against their homeland’s entry into the European Union. But for that one voter, the precinct—which saw 516 ballots cast in person and by mail—would have recorded a 100 percent par result.

No matter. All together, more than 1 million voters cast ballots Sept. 20 across Latvia and around the world, with 67 percent saying “yes” to Latvia’s entry into the EU, according to results reported by the Central Election Commission in Rīga.

Latvians abroad cast 7,770 ballots with 92.4 percent voting in favor of EU membership, results show. Latvians in Australia led the way, both according to the clock and the number of votes cast abroad.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. local time. That meant Latvians in Australia got first crack at the referendum to decide whether Latvia should join nine other candidate countries in becoming the newest members of the EU. While voting in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney was winding down, it was just picking up in Latvia. And as results were being tallied across Latvia, voters were still casting ballots in Western Europe and the Americas.

For the referendum to be valid, balloting had to reach a quorum of at least 50 percent of the total votes cast in the last parliamentary election. That mark was reached between noon and 4 p.m. Latvian time, according to the Central Election Commission. Latvia’s turnout for the referendum was 72.53 percent of eligible voters, according to media reports.

Several voting precincts abroad reported steady balloting throughout the day, with the greatest activity in Australia, the United States and Canada. But even in smaller Latvian population centers, interest in the EU referendum was high.

In Australia, according to the Central Election Commission, Latvians cast 1,129 votes—more than in the United States or Canada. Of those, 1,116 were for EU membership, 12 against, and one ballot was spoiled.

In the Latvian Embassy in Berlin, Germany, 214 citizens had cast ballots by about 9 p.m. local time, according to Ruta Baltause, head of the local election commission. A total of 210 citizens had requested mail ballots, she added, but how many actually cast absentee ballots would not be clear until after the polls closed and counting would begin.

One thing was clear, Baltause told Latvians Online: More people voted in the EU referendum than cast ballots in the last parliamentary election in 2002. Those voting in person included Latvians who live in Germany, students and travellers. About 8,500 Latvian citizens live in Germany, according to official statistics.

The first voter showed up at 7:10 a.m., Baltause said. Only one voter, who brought a copy of his passport rather than the original, was turned away.

Voters also could cast ballots in the Latvian consulate in Bonn.

In all, 509 ballots were cast in Germany, according to the Central Election Commission. Of those, 447 were for EU membership, 61 against, and one was a spoiled ballot.

The Latvian Embassy in London also saw steady activity, with most voters showing up between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., said Uldis Mikucs, chair of the local election commission. Some of the voters, he added, combined their participation in the referendum with attendance at a picnic in nearby Regent Park, organized by a Latvian women’s group.

By 9 p.m. local time, 485 voters had cast ballots in the embassy, Mikucs said. Among those were between 10 and 20 Latvians who traveled from Ireland.

The final tally, including absentee ballots, showed 657 votes in the United Kingdom, with 618 for, 38 against, and one spoiled ballot, according to the Central Election Commission.

In the Latvian Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, a total of 151 voters cast ballots, most of them in person. Only 17 were against EU membership.

Voters came from throughout Denmark, said Gunta Pastore, first secretary in the embassy. Voters also came from Malmo, Sweden, which is connected to Copenhagen via the 18-kilometer Oresund bridge.

As the results were being counted shortly after the polls closed at 10 p.m. local time, Pastore told Latvians Online that the atmosphere at the embassy was upbeat.

“Everyone’s waiting for Latvia,” she said, noting how media attention was focused on Latvia as the last of the 10 invitees to make its decision. Pastore said she was pleased to see many Latvian students turning out for the referendum.

Thirty votes for and none against was the tally in Argentina, said Honorary Consul Mirdza Zalts, reached by telephone in San Miguel, a suburb of Buenos Aires.

The vote could have been 34 in favor, she added, but she had only received 30 ballots from elections officials in Latvia and had to turn away four voters. No one voted by mail, Zalts said, because the postal system in Argentina isn’t very reliable.

At Latvia’s permanent mission to the United Nations in New York, about 275 voters cast ballots, said U.N. Ambassador Gints Jegermanis, reached about half an hour before polls closed in North America. Latvians in the United States could vote in person at either the mission in New York or at the Latvian Ev.-Lutheran Church near Washington, D.C.

While most voters came from the New York City area, Jegermanis said the mission also saw Latvians come from Connecticut and as far away as Chicago and California. Voters ranged in age from college students to one woman older than 90.

In all, 1,097 ballots were cast in the United States, of which 1,064 were for membership and 33 against, according to the Central Election Commission.

Toronto was undoubtedly the busiest election precinct outside Latvia.

With just minutes to go before balloting would be closed, local election commission chair Ģints Zichmanis reported that about 850 citizens had come to vote at the Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre. In Canada, voters also could cast ballots at the Latvian Embassy in Ottawa.

In all, 1,011 Latvian citizens cast ballots in Canada. Of those, according to the Central Election Commission, 998 were for EU membership, 12 against and one ballot was spoiled.

At the cultural center, most voters were from Toronto, but the precinct also saw the arrival of a busload of about 50 Latvians from Hamilton, Ontario, as well as from such spots as Camp Borden, a Canadian Armed Forces camp where about a half-dozen Latvian soldiers are training, and the Kristus Dārzs nursing home in Woodbridge, Ontario. A group of Latvians from Cleveland, Ohio, also traveled north of the border to vote in Toronto, Zichmanis added.

The combination of the EU referendum, a wedding and Latvian school all happening on the same Saturday made for a busy day in the cultural center, Zichmanis added.

And at about 5 p.m. local time, as the first results from Latvia were being reported, Zichmanis said the atmosphere turned festive as members of the Talavija fraternity broke out the champagne.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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