Is Greece’s digital transition setting a stepping stone against systemic disenfranchisement?

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In these national elections, Greek citizens living abroad will be able to cast their vote from their  Member State of residence, and that, for the first time, ever.

That is a stepping stone against disenfranchisement which occurs in some EU Member States such as Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Malta, even if some administrative burdens remain still.

The Greek elections under scrutiny

The countdown on the Greek elections has already started, as these were announced on 28 March 2023 by the Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis[1]. It seems that the first round will be held on May 21, with a possible second round in case of the necessity for a government coalition, as it has been mostly the case since the economic crisis, on 2 July. The awaited annoucement was delayed after the tragedy that hit Greece late February and March, as the deadliest of Greece’s train accidents unveiled.

A two year operation took place for Greek expatriates to be voting this time around. Statistics show that the interest has recently increased as, around 5,000 applications from citizen’s voting abroad had been submitted by 17 February. The number had reached a grand total of 9,000 registered voters, with  200 applications being reported to be submitted daily[2]. It was expected that the number of citizens registered would reach 15.000 to 20.000. As of the 28, however, the service is now closed and any new request would not be admitted.

This digital platform is an important step towards assuring the universality of voting, for a country counting 10,5 million residents[3] indeed. Among these, 9.903.864 were eligible to vote in the last governement elections of 2019[4]. To this number, should be added that of first time voters, born between 2003 to 2006, which has been approximated at 439.000[5] for the 2023 elections.

A long list of prerequisites for expatriates to vote

Based on the right to vote afforded to Greek citizens under Article 25 of the Greek Constitution, article 51§4 of the Constitution sets the framework under which measures for the exercise of the right to vote may be implemented from abroad. This addition would render the right to vote effective.

In practice, these provisions entail that by governmental decree, electorate centers would be available in embassies, consulates or other special electoral divisions, with electoral commissions, judicial representatives, etc., abroad,  if the necessary quorum of at least 40 registered citizens per area, has been met. Additionally, Greece provides the possibility for postal voting, whose efficiency is debatable, as it’s not, or at the very least, not much, used.

However, one could argue that universal suffrage is not sufficiently assured, as the sole modality of necessitating a quorum in order to open up electoral centers does not leave any available avenues for Greek expatriates to cast their vote from everywhere.

In that regard, Law n.4648/2019 on the Facilitation of Voting Rights, sets the framework under which elections may take place under certain prerequisites. These, however, do not tend to facilitate voting from abroad but instead, impose cumbersome conditions for voters to subscribe under just so they can participate in the democratic life of their Member State of origin.

Article 2§2 clarifies that eligibility for voting is granted to Greeks that have resided for a total of two years within the Greek Territory during a period of the last thirty-five years from the date of submission of the application for registration. In particular, they should have previously submitted a tax return in the current or previous tax year.

Exceptions remain, those of young voters and students. As the law highlights, dependent family members are exempted from the restriction on filing a tax return if they are under thirty years of age and in so far as, first degree relatives have submitted the above-mentioned, either during the current or former tax year.

This development came under the digital transformation of the Greek State; a platform on which expatriates can send their application to get registered at the special electorate register, which lessens significantly the barriers to vote. Accordingly, an efficient marketing strategy was deployed to compel, in particular, young voters to think about registering.

Again, a stepping stone, not quite an accomplished project, yet

The paradox of disenfranchisement hasn’t been completely eliminated; all registration shall be seized twelve days prior to the proclamation of elections by presidential decree. Here is what makes even lesser sense; that date is unknown, as it remains at the discretion of the government to proclaim elections. 

Then, in order to fulfill the necessary requirements of proof that one has resided in Greece in the past 35 years, as it is the standard rule, there is awfully a lot of paperwork demanded, such as the High School graduation certificate (Apolytirion), in other words, documents that one may not have when living abroad[6].

Most importantly, there is an issue about the integration of votes from abroad to the general lump sum of ballots as, there may be possible time delays when counting votes. As much as it has been debated, reason has prevailed and the election result will refer to all votes independent of their origin. However, political parties, when they do present candidates in their ballots, have the discretion to include one or more candidates from the Greek Diaspora.

Greece sets the example of how systemic discrepancies in the exercise of voting rights may influence the development of democracy in a country. This development hasn’t always been certain as the ECtHR has argued before in the case of Greece, that each Contracting State of the Convention may « mould their own democratic vision » under their own cultural and political thoughts in the Lykourezos v. Greece case[7].

In the  Sitarooulos and Giakoumopoulos vs. Greece judgement[8] issued in 2012, the ECtHR held that Article 3 of the First Additional Protocol to the ECHR did not oblige Greece to ensure that expatriates were able to vote from their State of residence abroad. However, the Court did acknowledge that Greece had voluntarily assumed that obligation (under Article 51(4) of the Constitution), and noted that for 43 years the country didn’t do anything under its’ own commitments.

The facts of that case are not irrelevant, as during the 2007 Parliamentary elections in Greece, two expatriates were deprived from voting from Strasbourg, where they resided and in fact, the Court delivered a judgment whereby it condemned Greece on the basis of an infringement to free elections and awarded damages up to 2.000 euros. Despite the ridicule amount of damages awarded, it seems that the sole fact of bringing a case before the ECtHR didn’t do as much as it would have hoped for. It’s only ten years after, that the necessary conditions were created in order for Greece to fulfill its’ obligations.

Most importantly, this came about during one of the collateral crises relying on the economic one, the political crisis that Greece went through during the past decade. One could not help but wondering what the political landscape in Greece would have looked like if all citizens that felt obliged to move abroad could have their voice hear about the governance of the country they will end up returning to.


[1] Eugenides, Giorgos “Mitsotakis announces May 21 elections – “Citizens must know who they are voting for Prime Minister” , seen at Proto Thema, on 29 March 2023,

[2] Seen at Iefimerida, accessed on 28 March 2023,

[3] This number refers to the findings of the Hellenic Statistic Authority in its’ October – December 2022 report (“ELSAT”)

[4] Greek Ministry of the interior 2019 report

[5] Seen at Newsbomb,accessed on 29 March 2023,

[6] Georgiopoulou, T. , How can Greeks living abroad may vote : A step-by- step Process, seen at Kathimerini, on 18 January 2023,

[7] ECtHR, Lykourezos v. Greece, no. 33554/03, § 51, ECHR 2006-VIII

[8] ECtHR, Sitarooulos and Giakoumopoulos vs. Greece, no. 42202/07