Up to 1.4 million Albanians could end up voting with expired ID cards in the June local elections.
This is the number of ID cards issued in 2009, the first year of their introduction in Albania. Their 10-year term is over or will end this year, and a large percentage of them will expire before the June 30th local elections.
These citizens could either use their passports to vote or renew their ID cards.
However, a month ago, the government decided to solve the issue by approving a law that extends the validity of all ID cards issued in 2009 until the end of 2019, independently of the issuance date.
The government decision is questionable. The expiry date was set and written on each card by the company producing them, including the relevant electronic data for each individual. The law stipulates that each card has a 10 year term, but there is no provision for setting or extending the expiration date for each card.
The new law cites as its legal basis articles 78 and 83 of the Constitution, which define the way in which the laws in the Parliament are adopted but they have no relation to the right of the government to deal with the issue of citizens’ ID cards.
The government has justified the new law with the need not to deny citizens the right to vote. It has claimed that number of renewal applications would be too large to handle on time for elections.
Citizens can also vote with passports, but the government has clarified that for many people both passports and ID cards expire at the same time. The government has not disclosed the number of citizens whose both passports and ID cards expire simultaneously.
However, most likely that number is not big. Exit.al contacted 100 random individuals during the last week and only 11 of them claimed that both their passport and ID card expired in the period from now until June 30.
The government’s claim that it is impossible to handle in time the large number of renewal applications is simply not true. And there is precedent for this.
In fact, 10 years ago, during a six-month period (January 12 – June 18, 2009) before the general elections, the Berisha government provided 1.3 million citizens with new ID cards. This is the reason why a large number of cards expire at this time, ten years later.
At that time, local government officers were able to provide with ID cards 1,321,376 citizens out of 1,402,361 applicants, despite the fact that they lacked experience, infrastructure, and the technology was completely new to them. On the election day, only 3,321 applications out of a total of 1,402,361 had not been processed. OSCE/ODIHR praised the process as and achievement of the government in securing free and fair elections.
Ten years ago this was quite an achievement considering the fact that the issue was unpredictable.
Now, ten years later, although infrastructure has improved considerably, agencies are now experienced, and citizens are much more informed, the Rama government has announced it cannot handle the issue. The government knew that ID cards were set to expire, contrary to the situation ten years ago, and it had all the time to call on citizens to apply for renewal. Having failed to do so, it opted for a shortcut by making questionable amendments to the law.
In the last general elections in 2017, a total of 1,586,213 citizens cast their vote, comprising about 45 per cent of the voting-eligible population.
The consequences of these amendments on the electoral process remain to be seen.