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Voter Suppression Comes to Europe

Recent national and EU-level election results show that while intra-EU migrants tend to support more liberal, pro-EU parties, their participation in elections lags far behind that of their domestic counterparts. Worse, populist and illiberal governments are increasingly exploiting expats' lower turnout for their own benefit.

ROME – Voter suppression first emerged in the United States between 1885 and 1908, when 11 southern states enacted laws designed to discourage or hinder former slaves and their descendants from voting. Since then, similar strategies have been tried in Canada, Australia, and Israel. And now, electoral discrimination may be coming to Europe, with several European Union member states exploring ways to block or discourage key constituents from voting.

Officially, there are around 17 million EU citizens living and working in another EU country (the actual tally of intra-European migrants is surely higher). Most of these intra-EU migrants are younger and more educated than the European average, and hail from economically weaker countries that are more prone to populist jingoism. In fact, many have emigrated precisely because they have more pro-EU, cosmopolitan leanings. Nonetheless, their voices are rarely heard.

That is no accident. Voting patterns in Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Greece show the extent to which EU expatriates’ political rights have been eroded. Illiberal ruling parties know that these diaspora groups could hurt them electorally, and avoid encouraging, or have taken steps actively to discourage, their political participation.