It all started when I registered to cast my absentee vote in Tunisia’s 2014 legislative elections in New York City. I live in Denver, so I figured it was the best place to vote, as I can usually find pretty cheap air tickets to the Big Apple. Usually, but not always: sadly, I never managed to make it to New York in October to cast my vote. The presidential elections in November, however, would find me in The Hague, and as Tunisia’s Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE) offered all Tunisian citizens living abroad the option to change their voting location, I decided to change my location to there.
The process was simple enough: send in a copy of your passport, proof of your original registration, and fill out a form. Send the documents to your regional representatives, and they'd send them back to Tunisia for the ISIE to review. I submitted my documentation to the regional office, and they responded courteously confirming that I had submitted all the required paperwork and my file was complete. They would send it to the main authority in Tunis, and wait to hear back.
Maybe you're wondering how I could choose so casually to switch my voting location from a city in one country to a city way over on another continent. Under ISIE rules New York and The Hague part of the same electoral district. Districts for Tunisians living abroad are as follows: France 1; France 2; Germany; Italy; Arab world countries; Americas and rest of Europe. And in theory, you should be able to vote at any voting location within the same district, correct?
Not according to the ISIE. For the 2014 legislative elections, the ISIE changed the rules and made everyone re-register in order to vote; and if you re-registered to vote in New York (or Houston, or Vienna, or any other city), you better believe that that exact city is where you would be going to vote.
On November 13, the ISIE released the names of those “selected” to vote. My name was not on the list—and neither were the names of many, many others in my district who had requested a change. In the Montreal office, only three people were accommodated. Three. And we were not given any reason or justification as to why our names weren't there.
To say I feel furious is an understatement. I am a full Tunisian citizen who has yet to vote even once, because of the incompetence of the Tunisian electoral authority. I was so excited to finally be voting for the first time, to be exercising the most fundamental of my rights. But the ISIE decided that it could arbitrarily choose who could vote and who could not. It decided that it has the power to rob citizens of their rights.
The regional representatives did not have much to say but remind those rejected that it is “up to the ISIE” to decide whose request could be accommodated. A message posted on their Facebook page reads: “The fact that your file is complete does not guarantee acceptance by ISIE. Almost every day we have published on our page that only ISIE has the power to authorize the change. We understand your frustration, but we unfortunately have no more answers than you do.”
i also have to wonder whether this has anything to do with politics. Though I can't know for certain whether my application was rejected as a result of my political views, I do know this: the ISIE has made it very difficult for Tunisians abroad to exercise their right to vote, and several instances were reported during October's legislative elections where certain individuals were unable to locate their names at the offices where they were registered and were therefore rendered unable to vote. There were also reports of bureau members convincing friends (usually sharing the same political convictions) to go to vote and fill up the voting booths.
So given how bad the legislative elections were—extreme disorganization reigned supreme in the offices abroad, I anticipate that tomorrow's presidential elections will be even worse. The saddest part is that I have not felt this angry at my country since the time of Ben Ali. Back then I felt Tunisian was constantly rejecting me, making me feel like a second-class citizen every time I tried to open my mouth about this or that, or to exercise very basic rights and duties.
Today, I feel the very same way. I feel I have been treated unjustly, I feel robbed, and I call on the judicial authorities in Tunisia to initiate an investigation and find answers to the following question: why were the location change requests denied? On what basis were Tunisian citizens forfeited their right to vote?
Wafa Ben Hassine is a Tunisian-American law student specializing in International Law and Internet Law. She is an advocate for global human rights with a special focus on the Arab world.