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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Presidential elections are approaching: Will the left-wing National Electoral Commission of Vučko remain in office despite the “mistakes” in the National Assembly’s elections?

By: Lea Kalc Furlanič

At the end of June, Drago Zadergal, a member of the National Electoral Commission (DVK), sent a proposal to dismiss the director of the DVK service, Dušan Vučko, to the president of this commission, Peter Golob. Among the reasons, he cited Vučko’s unscrupulous and irregular work and negligent performance of his duties as a director. He also pointed out a calculation according to which the seats would almost be allocated to six wrong parliamentary candidates.

This year there were several problems in the conduct of the elections for MPs, from an incorrect calculation for six MPs to a delay and error in printing ballots and sending them abroad, and Vučko’s exceeding his jurisdiction of what lists run with the signatures of at least three MPs.

He loaded a subordinate with his responsibility

Zadergal accused Vučko in detail and with evidence on 12 pages of A4-format in four main points of delays and errors in the printing of ballots, as a result of which they reached voters abroad four days late, which consequently meant that the ballots were sent back later, and this prevented a large number of eligible voters from voting by mail from abroad. At the same time, Vučko went even further, added Zadergal in the motion for dismissal – in fact, during the extraordinary termination procedure, he acted illegally against DVK employee Nina Mujagić, to whom he even transferred his responsibility for the resulting delay. He attributed to her the responsibility for the four-day delay, which occurred due to incorrectly printed NSi ballot logos, as Vučko overlooked NSi’s warning e-mail or did not forward it to Mujagić, who was in charge of printing and distributing ballots. According to the proponent, Vučko performed his duties negligently when he overlooked this e-mail with a comment on the design of the ballots. At the same time, Zadergal also states that Vučko illegally appointed the termination appeals committee (even before the mandate of the previous committee expired) and thus denied Mujagić access to e-mails so that she could gather material for her defence.

Finally, Zadergal mentions Vučko’s actions in violation of the law on elections to the National Assembly, when he interfered with the competence of the DVK, so that he did not inform the DVK about the received signatures of support from the MPs for the candidate lists, and without a decision of the commission, he himself confirmed which lists were running with the signatures of at least three MPs.

Such an error has not yet occurred

Regarding the first allegation – incorrect calculation for six MPs (supposed to be a computer error) – Zadergal said that Vučko did not arrange to use the appropriate computer module approved in March but used the old one. Something like this has never happened before, neither in Slovenia nor in the EU. Due to a computer error, six parliamentary candidates were wrongly calculated to become MPs. There were two mistakes both in Gibanje Svoboda and SDS, and one in each NSi and Levica.

The error was discovered when a special expert group carried out additional verification of the election results on Friday, May 6th, 2022. Representatives of the companies Intelcom and Genis, which are developers and maintainers of software for calculating election results, participated in the group, as well as independent consultant Andrej Bauer from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of the University of Ljubljana, reported Peter Jančič, its responsible editor on the Siol.net portal. To ensure the highest possible level of correctness and the possibility of detecting errors, the members of the expert group compared the results of the calculations of three independent software components: the old software, which was used in 2014 and 2018, and which calculated temporary results in 2022, accessible to the public on websites DVK, new software developed by the company Genis, and a programme developed by Andrej Bauer on behalf of DVK to ensure independent verification of results. They found that the results did not match. On top of that, the recalculation they made incorrectly is not terribly complicated, former member of the state election commission Jurij Toplak – so Siol.net – did it by himself in a few hours, and without a mistake.

The computer scientists and mathematicians explained to the members of the DVK how the error in the programme for calculating mandates occurred and why the error was discovered only shortly before the confirmation of the official report on the outcome of the elections. On May 7th, the National Electoral Commission discussed the incorrect calculation of the distribution of mandates, which also confirmed the final outcome of the election, but the president of the DVK Golob said in a statement that the elections were fair and legal, and that due to the complication in the calculation of the parliamentary mandates, the DVK is not considering resignation.

However, the representative of the SDS in the commission, Drago Zadergal, proposed that the DVK should postpone the confirmation of the result for 24 hours, so that the members who learned about the mistake just before the meeting could check everything. But the majority of DVK members rejected it. Peter Golob explained that he had already agreed with the President of the Republic, Borut Pahor, on the date of handing over the report the following day, and that a postponement was not possible because the President had obligations later. Only Zadergal voted for additional time for rechecking. The rest were satisfied by Golob’s explanation that non-elected and newspaper representatives can still complain to the National Assembly when it confirms mandates.

Who is Dušan Vučko?

In the past, Vučko was an LDS MP (source: Siol) and also a government functionary (director of the directorate), his election as the head of the office responsible for the implementation of electoral procedures caused a lot of stir a decade ago. When Vučko was elected a decade ago at a session behind closed doors, when the DVK was led by the now-deceased Supreme Judge Anton Gašper Frantar, the SDS warned that Vučko was a “former LDS MP, chairman of the LDS municipal committee in Bohinj, municipal councillor, long-time secretary of the LDS parliamentary group, and in recent years the head of the Directorate for Administrative and Internal Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior, headed by LDS President Katarina Kresal”. Vučko took care of the extra stir himself when, before the current parliamentary elections, he hired Tina Hrastnik, who once did this job for the LDS, as a public relations consultant. This certainly did not strengthen the impression of the implementation of electoral procedures not determined by party. The State Electoral Commission, which includes representatives of all major parties, is headed by Supreme Judge Peter Golob.

The majority in DVK is held by centre-left parties

In the proposal for dismissal, Zadergal warned that he would be dealt whit at the next DVK meeting within 14 days (he submitted the proposal two days before the end of June), “since it is about obvious errors in the work of the DVK director, over which the members of the DVK had no influence, but we are co-responsible for the legal and proper operation of the commission. At the same time, with the vote on dismissal, it should also be determined which members of the DVK support such negligent work of the director of the DVK service and bear co-responsibility for it.”

For now, it is not yet known when the DVK’s proposal, before which there are also the elections for the President of the Republic and the State Council this year (it does not play a central role in local elections), will be announced. According to STA, before September. “How the decision-making could unfold is difficult to say. However, it seems that since the centre-left parties have a majority in the DVK, Vučko will remain the director of the DVK service,” Zadergal concluded.

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