No grounds to punish voters for 'spoiling' ballots, lawyer says

One of the pro-government Telegram channels said that citizens, responding to Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s appeal to cross out both options in their ballots at the next referendum, would be subject to criminal liability under Part 3 Article 218 of the Criminal Code (“Deliberate destruction or damage to property”). Supporters of the regime believe this can lead to the introduction of new sanctions, which, in turn, according to them, would damage the economy. Belsat asked NAM lawyer Artsyom Praskalovich whether such information is consistent with the current legislation.

According to Artsyom Praskalovich, the Electoral Code does not regulate whether a ballot paper belongs to the state. This is the case when it comes to the passports of citizens.

“Concerning the ballot, the code does not use the imperative wording that it must be thrown into the ballot box. So, in principle, you can take it with you, which often happens. In many protocols, we see that the number of ballots issued is greater than the total number of ballots counted”.

According to the lawyer, it is impossible to prosecute a person under the proposed criminal article for several reasons. First, the Electoral Code features two notions at once — a “spoiled” ballot and an “invalid” ballot. The first is when you accidentally fill it out incorrectly or tear it up, after which you go to the commission and have it replaced with a new one. The second is when it is impossible to determine a citizen’s choice (for example, they filled in all the answer boxes).

“Thus, the right to exchange a spoiled ballot without any consequences is written in the code itself. In turn, invalid ballots are not spoiled. They are part of the general vote count. They cover the right of a person to answer “for,” “against,” or “against all””.

Artsyom Praskalovich also points out that in case of “spoiling” the ballot, there is no reason to talk about the group actions, because voters from different cities do not do it together or by agreement. In addition, each voter is only responsible for his or her own ballot.

“One person invalidates one ballot. So, too, the loss they cause is equal to the cost of one piece of paper.”

The lawyer notes that even in a country where sometimes “laws are disregarded” no one has yet abolished the secrecy of the vote. It means that nobody has the right to monitor how you handle the ballot, or demand to see how you filled it. Artsyom Praskalovich emphasizes that no one has that right under any circumstances.

“It means that another attempt to intimidate the Belarusians has no legal or logical basis,” adds the NAM lawyer Artsyom Praskalovich.