Natālija Videniece, 103, becomes the oldest voter to cast a ballot at the polling station in Minneapolis, Minn. At left, local election commission Chair Laura Ramane waits to honor her with a bouquet of flowers. (Photo by Andris Straumanis)
Voters in Latvia and around the world turned out in greater numbers during the Oct. 2 parliamentary election than four years ago. More than 934,000 people voted in Latvia, or nearly 63 percent of all eligible voters, according to the Central Election Commission in Rīga. Four years ago in the last Saeima election, turnout at the end of the day was just shy of 61 percent.
More than 900 polling stations were open in Latvia. Outside of the homeland, a total 63 polling stations were in operation, 10 more than in 2006. Reports from local election commissions suggest that voter turnout abroad also will top that of the last Saeima vote.
Reports of voting activity in Australia show that turnout will be better than in 2006, when 610 ballots were cast at just three polling stations. This year, a total of five polling stations were open around the country.
With about an hour to go before polling closed in Melbourne, local election commission Chair Igors Dimits reported that 269 ballots had been cast at the Latvian House. Election officials had expected only about 200 voters, he told Latvians Online.
“We will be counting until midnight,” he said.
Dimits attributed the turnout in part to active coverage of the election by the two Latvian-Australian newspapers, Austrālijas Latvietis and Laikrasts Latvietis. Another contributing factor was that the local choir was rehearsing in the Latvian House for the upcoming Culture Days (Kultūras dienas). Melbourne also experienced a nice day weather-wise, which no doubt helped convince people to get out.
In Sydney, election commission Chair Ināra Edīte Graudiņa said 207 persons had cast ballots in person at the Latvian House, but with less than an hour to go she added that a last-minute rush could still occur. Among voters were recent arrivals from Latvia as well as tourists from the homeland. Four years ago, according the Central Election Commission data, a total of 198 ballots were cast in Sydney.
In Brisbane, which in the last parliamentary election did not have a polling station, a total of 61 persons voted, according to Honorary Consul Juris Meija. Among those were 10 recent arrivals from Latvia.
Meija told Latvians Online that the polling station closed at 6 p.m. local time. However, polling stations were supposed to stay open until 8 p.m. local time, Central Election Commission spokesperson Kristīne Bērziņa confirmed in an e-mail to Latvians Online.
With less than half an hour to go before closing the polling station in Adelaide, local election commission Chair Valdis Jaudzems told Latvians Online that 174 ballots had been cast, topping the 2006 tally by at least 15 votes. Many voters came with new passports received as a result of a program by the Latvian government that in August brought a mobile passport station to Australia. Jaudzems said turnout might have been helped by the long weekend: Oct. 4 is Labour Day in South Australia.
Another new polling station operated in Perth’s Latvian Centre. However, the local election commission could not be reached. But even without factoring in voters from Western Australia, turnout for the entire country was at least 711.
A polling station was scheduled to operate in Christchurch, New Zealand, but the recent earthquake there foiled the plan, according the Central Election Committee.
Asia and the Near East
Turnout at the Latvian Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, was about what could be expected, said Ambassador Pēteris Vaivars, who doubled as chair of the local election committee. With about 45 minutes to go before the polling station was due to close, 15 citizens had cast ballots. Among the voters was Vaivars’ son Jānis, who voted for the first time in his life.
The polling station in the Latvian Embassy in Beijing, China, could not be reached.
In Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent, where a handful of Latvians live, a total of 13 people had voted by about 4 p.m. local time, said election commission Gatis Groza. Among those were four persons who were on a business trip to the city.
Saturday is not the best day in Israel to hold a Latvian election. Many Jews observe the holy day of Shabbat and, among other consequences, public transportation does not run. And so, with Shabbat ending at sundown Saturday, Ambassador Mārtiņš Perts told Latvians Online, voter activity could be expected to pick for the final 90 minutes of balloting. About 40 people had voted by 6:30 p.m. local time, Perts said. Four years ago, a total of 51 citizens cast ballots in the Latvian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
In Egypt, just 10 citizens—three of whom were embassy employees—had voted by about 6:30 p.m. Cairo time, said the local election commission chair, Ambassador Māris Selga. He did not expect anyone else to come to the Latvian Embassy to cast a ballot. This is the first Saeima election in which a polling station has operated in the country.
Activity in Tbilisi, Georgia, was much higher than expected. With about two hours to go, the local election commission was still hoping the number of voters would reach 100, said Chair Iluta Čečiņa. However, she said officials were surprised and satisfied enough with the 90 who had voted so far. The first voters in Georgia were already waiting at 7 a.m. They were 16 persons who were on a trip to the country.
During the last Saeima election in 2006, Tbilisi did not have a polling station.
Čečiņa credited the turnout to information appearing on the website of the Ave Sol Latvian Society of Georgia, as well as to a seminar about the election that she held in September in Tbilisi.
The polling station in the Latvian Embassy in Moscow, Russia, could not be reached. However, Latvian State Television reported that by about 3:30 p.m. local more than 220 people had voted in Moscow—including members of the Rīga Dinamo ice hockey team.
In Russia’s “second city,” turnout also was strong.
“St. Petersburg is known for waking late,” local election commission Chair Inita Dzene said, noting that the first voter did not show until 8:40 a.m. local time at the Latvian Consulate General there. Still, with an hour left to go at the polling station, a total of 162 votes had been cast. Four years ago, 111 voters turned out for the Saeima election. Dzene said many young people voted this time, and many voters looked as if they clearly had made up their minds about whom to cast ballots for before arriving at the polling station.
Contrary to activity at other polling stations abroad, fewer voters in Pskov, Russia, turned out this year than in 2006. An hour before the polling station closed in the Latvian Consulate General, local election commission Chair Jānis Legzdiņš told Latvians Online that just 16 people had voted. Four years ago, turnout was 33 persons.
At the Latvian consular office in Kaliningrad, the first voter showed up about 9 a.m., said local election commission Chair Dzidra Liepiņa. This is the first time a polling station has operated in Kaliningrad for the Saeima election. Two hours before the station was to close, Liepiņa reported that 23 people had cast ballots.
Compared to four years ago, when tourists may have played a role in boosting turnout to almost 350, this year fewer people cast ballots at the Latvian Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia. About an hour and a half remained in the day when local election Chair Kārlis Eihenbaums reported that about 200 citizens had cast ballots. The first voter came before 8 a.m., he said, and most of the voters have been middle-aged and younger.
On the other hand, turnout was greater than expected in Helsinki, Finland.
“Right now we are making copies of voting forms,” said local election commission Chair Juris Bone when contacted about 90 minutes before the polling station in the Latvian Embassy was due to close.
About 150 people had already cast ballots and Bone expected more to come. Four years ago, Helsinki saw just 83 ballots cast. Many of the voters were 20-somethings, he added.
With an hour to go for balloting in Sweden, voters were on track to almost double the turnout of four years ago. By 7 p.m. local time, about 600 citizens had cast ballots in the Latvian Embassy in Stockholm, reported local election commission Chair Vineta Freimane. Another 100 had cast ballots in a second polling station in Gothenburg, she said. Voters included both members of the older exile generation, as well as recent arrivals from Latvia. Also among the voters, Freimane said, were tourists from Latvia who had arrived by ferry and came to cast ballots before heading further into Stockholm.
A total of 61 voters cast ballots at the Latvian Embassy in Athens, Greece, which is about the same number as four years ago, said local election commission Chair Līga Bergmane. She noted that many of the voters were tourists from Latvia.
The Latvian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, opened in 2008, and this is the first time a polling station operated there. Local election commission Chair Veronika Erte said she was satisfied with the turnout, which exceeded expecations. With just 45 minutes to go, turnout stood at 33 voters, Erte said.
Brussels, Belgium, saw strong turnout, said local election commission Chair Uldis Mikuts. A total of 557 citizens had voted in persons by the time Mikuts was reached less than 20 minutes before the polling station closed. Another 12 voted by mail. Four years ago, turnout was 448, and that included voters from Luxembourg. One reason for the increase, Mikuts speculated, is that more Latvian citizens are working in European Union institutions based in Brussels. The heightened sense that it is important to vote also played a role.
Although the polling station in Luxembourg could not be reached directly, Mikuts said that at about 2 p.m. local time he learned that 170 people at already voted at the honorary consulate in Luxembourg City.
A bus full of about 30 tourists from Latvia helped push turnout in the Latvian Embassy in Vienna, Austria, to more than 150, said Maija Teikmane, chair of the local election commission. Voters included many younger people, as well as citizens from Munich, Germany. Four years ago, turnout in Vienna was 117.
In Germany, despite the closure of the Latvian consulate in Bonn, leaving only the polling station in the Latvian Embassy in Berlin, turnout was set to top that of the last parliamentary election. Reached just as the polling station was closing, local election commission Chair Dace Krieviņa said a total of 308 citizens had voted in person. Election officials were just beginning to count absentee ballots. The embassy received a total of 212 requests for mail ballots. Four years ago, Bonn and Berlin together counted 321 votes.
Four years ago, voters in Ireland cast more than 540 ballots at two polling stations. This year, more than 800 voters traveled to the Latvian Embassy in Dublin to participate in the parliamentary election, said local commission Chair Vija Buša. With a bit more than half an hour to go before the polling station closed, Buša held out the possibility that the final tally might be closer to 900. Voters came from a number of locations outside of Dublin, including Cork, Limerick and Northern Ireland.
In Europe polling stations also operated in Minsk and Vitebsk, Belarus; Prague, Czech Republic; Copenhagen, Denmark; Paris, France; London, Bradford and the Straumēni rest home at Catthorpe in Great Britain; Rome, Italy; Vilnius, Lithuania; The Hague, Netherlands; Oslo, Norway; Lisbon, Portugal; Warsaw, Poland; Madrid, Spain; Geneva, Switzerland; and Kiev, Ukraine.
By about 6 p.m. local time, almost 150 ballots had been cast in the polling station set up in the Trimda Latvian Ev. Lutheran Church in Boston, according to election commission Chair Marcis Voldiņš. Four years ago, a total of 99 ballots were cast in Boston. Voters included a mix of middle-aged and older Latvians of the exile generations, as well as a couple of dozen recent arrivals from Latvia, Voldiņš said.
The first voter at the polling station in New York City, which was set up in the Permanent Representative Office of Latvia to the United Nations, was waiting at 6:59 a.m. for the door to open, said election commission Chair Kristīne Maļinovska. By 6:30 p.m. local time, about 300 ballots had been cast. In 2006, voters in New York cast 222 ballots.
By 8 p.m. Chicago time, voter turnout stood at 299 at the Zion Latvian Ev. Lutheran Church, reported Artis Inka, editor of the website cikaga.com. In 2006, a total of 272 votes were recorded in Chicago.
In Washington, D.C., a total of 160 voters had cast ballots by 4:30 p.m. local time, according to the website of the Latvian Embassy.
In Florida’s St. Petersburg, known largely as a retirement community for Latvians, the age of voters argued against the stereotype. The youngest voter, said election commission Chair Andris Ritums, was 18, while the oldest was a man of 100. By 6:30 p.m., a total of 70 citizens had cast ballots, bettering the tally of 2006 by 17 voters.
In Minnesota, the election was a festive affair. An exhibit of paintings by exile artists was on display next to the polling station in the Latvian Ev. Lutheran Church of Minneapolis and St. Paul. First-time voters were treated to a chocolate bar, while the oldest voter, 103-year-old Natālija Videniece, received a bouquet of flowers from local election commission chair Laura Ramane. By about 4 p.m. local time, a total of 133 voters had already cast ballots, topping the total 109 who turned out in 2006.
Minneapolis was not the only place with an art exhibit to help draw voters. The Philadelphia Society of Free Letts, also a polling station site, had on display the works of three Latvian artists. By 7:15 p.m. local time, said election commission Chair Marks Alberts Liepa, a total of 107 people had voted. Liepa noted that the number was one more than the last time Philadelphia had a polling station for a parliamentary election—17 years ago.
In the United States, polling stations also operated in Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Milwaukee, Wis.; San Francisco, Calif.; and Seattle, Wash.
Apparently the rain and wind that blew through Canada’s federal capital early in the day did little to dissuade voters. A total of 58 citizens had voted in the Latvian Embassy in Ottawa by about 7:30 p.m local time. Add to that the approximately 100 mail ballots received at the embassy, election commission Chair Elīna Čaklā said, and the number of vote in Ottawa will exceed to the 106 recorded in 2006.
Polling stations also operated in Toronto and Montréal. A total of 45 voters in Hamilton, Ontario, boarded a bus to cast ballots in nearby Toronto, Hamilton resident Astrīde Sīlis told Latvians Online via e-mail.
A total of 20 votes (18 in person and two by mail) were recorded in São Paulo, Brazil, said Honorary Consul General Jānis Grimbergs, who also served as chair of the election commission. Four years ago, 36 votes were tallied in Brazil. Grimbergs told Latvians Online that rain and cold weather may have kept some people away from the polls.
A polling station also operated in Santiago, Chile.
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