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Council of Europe: European Court of Human Rights Denies Claim of Violation of the Right to Vote Abroad for Greek Expatriates

(Mar. 26, 2012) On March 15, 2012, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in its judgment on the case Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos v. Greece, held that there was no violation by Greece of article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECPHRFF), on the right to free elections, pertaining to the applicants' right to vote from abroad. (Press Release, ECHR, 107/2012, The Inability of Greeks Living Abroad to Vote in Parliamentary Elections from Their Place of Residence Did Not Breach Their Human Rights (Mar. 15, 2012); ECPHRFF, Council of Europe website (last visited Mar. 22, 2012).)

A 2010 judgment of the ECHR by judges sitting in a chamber had found in favor of the applicants. Subsequently, the case was referred to the Grand Chamber, at the request of the Greek government. Judges sitting in a chamber when a case was first heard are excluded from the composition of the Grand Chamber for that case. The Grand Chamber's judgments are final, pursuant to article 44 of the ECPHRFF.

The facts of the case involved two Greek nationals who lived in France and were unable to vote in national parliamentary elections held in 2007 in Greece. The Greek ambassador declined their request to vote at the embassy in France, because of the lack of domestic legislation to enable Greeks living in foreign countries to vote through their embassies. Subsequently, the two applicants argued before the ECHR that because they were not able to vote in their place of residence, their right to vote was adversely affected. (Press Release, supra.)

The Grand Chamber stated that the key issue in the case under consideration was whether article 3 of Protocol 1 obliges states that ratified the Protocol to establish the necessary conditions for their citizens to vote abroad. (Id.)

The Grand Chamber examined this issue in the context of international law, practice among Council of Europe states, and the pertinent Greek legislation. After consideration, the Grand Chamber held that there is no obligation under international or regional law for states to ensure that their citizens are able to vote abroad. It noted that although the majority of Council of State Members allowed their citizens abroad to vote in their place of residence, others did not. (Id.)

As far as domestic law was concerned, the Grand Chamber acknowledged that although the Greek Constitution recognizes the right of Greek expatriates to vote abroad, it does not oblige the Greek legislature to establish arrangements for Greeks to exercise the right to vote through the country's embassies. The Grand Chamber also dismissed the argument that travelling to Greece in order to exercise their right to vote would disrupt the applicants' professional and family lives and thus would amount to interference in their right to vote. (Id.)