Less than 15 percent of all potential voters abroad participated in the July 23 Latvian referendum on dissolving the Saeima, according to data compiled by the Central Election Commission in Rīga.
However, like voters in the homeland, they overwhelmingly supported former President Valdis Zatlers’ call to send lawmakers home. They cast 94.9 percent of their ballots in favor of dissolving the parliament and 4.9 percent against.
A record number of 78 polling stations operated in 41 countries outside Latvia. As in the homeland, they were open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time. The increased number of polling stations was in answer to concerns by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that there was little time for citizens abroad to apply to vote by mail.
Just 10 of the total 7,547 ballots cast outside Latvia were spoiled. In all, 7,554 voters abroad participated in the referendum, suggesting that a handful never turned in a ballot.
Voters at the six polling stations in the United Kingdom led the way in country totals, handing in an even 1,500 ballots. They were followed by voters in the United States (1,238), Ireland (593), Germany (506) and Sweden (485). Surprisingly, Australian voters, who in past parliamentary elections have been rather active, recorded just 480 ballots. Voters in Canada handed in 455 ballots.
By individual polling station London was the most active, with 523 ballots cast, followed by Stockholm (395), Dublin (387), Oslo (339) and Toronto (336). The least amount of ballots cast was in Ankara, Turkey, where just three voters participated.
The polling station at the Latvian Center Gaŗezers near Three Rivers, Mich., recorded 241 ballots—nearly 20 percent of the U.S. total. In addition to the usual summer campers, the center was the site during the weekend of Culture Days (Kultūras dienas), an event featuring art, music and theatre.
The polling station in Vitebsk, Belarus, was the only one abroad in which the number of votes against dissolving the Saeima exceeded the number of votes for: 5-3. The four voters in Santiago, Chile, were evenly split on the issue. In Brussels, Belgium, where many Latvian citizens work for European Union institutions, more than 12 percent of voters were against letting the Saeima go home.
By contrast, balloters at eight polling stations abroad were convinced enough that everyone voted for dissolving the Saeima: Sao Paulo, Brazil; Cairo, Egypt; Athens, Greece; Astana, Kazakhstan; Ljublana, Slovakia; Ankara, Turkey; and St. Petersburg, Fla., and Milwaukee, Wis., in the United States. Voters at those polling stations also were careful, as no spoiled ballots were reported.
In countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States, local Latvian organizations could take credit for doing much of the work of organizing voting, according to a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ballots such as this were used by voters in the July 23 national referendum to signal whether they were for (par) or against (pret) dissolving the Saeima. (Image from Central Election Commission)
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