Voter Migration and Electoral Manipulation: A Look at Recent Serbian Elections


Original article (in Serbian) was published on 18/3/2024; Author: Stefan Kosanović

The issue of voter migration, which involves the organized change of citizens’ residences to enable them to vote in specific municipalities, reached its peak during the recent elections. As the Belgrade, Novi Sad, and other local elections draw near, there is mounting evidence suggesting that the authorities plan to persist with this practice. Recent observations by some political parties have highlighted a significant increase in the number of registered voters in Novi Sad, where local elections are anticipated this year. Using manipulative mathematics, Informer media outlet claims that the “yellow government” (Democratic Party) inflated the electoral roll when they were in power in Novi Sad, effectively “stealing” elections by orchestrating the influx of voters. However, no evidence has been provided to support these claims.

On March 18, 2024, the Informer online news outlet published an article in which it allegedly shows that “the opposition has been relocating voters for years and brutally stealing elections in Novi Sad.” The basis for such assertions was derived from a post on the X (formerly Twitter) account Detector of Lies, which analyzed the voter counts in Novi Sad across various election years.

The X profile indicates that from 2000 to 2012, the voter count rose by 69,498, and from 2012 until the end of January 2024, it increased by another 27,382. By subtracting these growth figures, the profile concludes that the Democratic Party illicitly appropriated 42,116 votes solely in Novi Sad.

This conclusion relies on manipulative mathematics and illogical calculations. It overlooks the natural population growth and migration into Serbia’s second-largest city over two decades. Moreover, it only deems the population increase during the Serbian Progressive Party’s governance as legitimate and honest.

This Informer article comes after months of accusations that the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in Belgrade was illegally registering voters from Bosnia and Herzegovina and other municipalities in Serbia, and that it was actively doing so ahead of the repeated Belgrade elections. The opposition has reported the same irregularities for the upcoming Novi Sad elections scheduled for this year, as well as in a numerous other municipalities.

What Irregularities Were Observed?

Raskrikavanje has previously reported on testimonies and recordings showing that during the last elections, in December 2023, voters from Bosnia and Herzegovina were bussed to the Štark Arena in New Belgrade. From there, they were transported to the polling stations where they were supposed to vote. People from the buses seemed confused, and many did not know in which part of Belgrade they were.

The occurrence of such migrations has been corroborated by observer missions from both Serbia and abroad.

“Numerous indicators noted during the campaign, and on the election day itself, indicate the execution of electoral engineering at the Belgrade elections. This was done through the manipulation of the right to vote and organized migrations of voters,” writes CRTA’s election day observation mission in their assessment.

This organization may have best documented the various manipulations of the voter list both before and after the elections.

CRTA found voters registered in multiple cities and countries simultaneously. For instance, they highlighted an unfinished building in Belgrade, listing an improbable 129 voters. A review of these voters’ names for the parliamentary and local elections in 2022 and 2023 revealed that these individuals were registered at an uninhabitable address, solely for the purpose of voting in the Belgrade elections. Meanwhile, for parliamentary elections, they were registered at polling stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The report also mentions another illustrative example.

Specifically, CRTA was contacted by an individual from a municipality adjacent to Belgrade, where no elections were scheduled last December. After the individual’s parent expressed support for Aleksandar Vučić, they were summoned to the local police station. There, alongside approximately twenty others, they were registered at an address within a municipality qualified to vote in the Belgrade elections. They received financial compensation from SNS activists, with a promise of additional funds post-voting.

Before the elections, the CRTA observation mission found this person on the voter list slated to vote in the local elections in Belgrade. Immediately after the elections ended, they were no longer visible on the voter list.

International observers were also critical of the authorities in Serbia. “News of buses with non-residents coming to Belgrade to vote is shocking. Vote theft, bribery, and corruption should not be allowed in the democratic world,” stated Andreas Schieder, a member of the EU Parliament observation mission.

The OSCE/ODIHR observation mission, in its diplomatic report, also highlighted issues of voter migrations and lack of confidence in the voter list, offering recommendations for Serbia to remedy these problems.

In early March, N1 Television uncovered another instance where individuals from a refugee settlement in Mala Krsna near Smederevo were transported to the Voždovac municipality in Belgrade for a change of residence before the Belgrade city elections. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić and Prime Minister Ana Brnabić responded to this case, asserting that only one person from Mala Krsna was registered to vote in Belgrade. Brnabić further claimed that this could be verified by anyone, a statement that is inaccurate since change of residence data is not publicly accessible.

There are issues in Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia and the capital of the autonomous province of Vojvodina, as well.

The Progressive Action Party of Vojvodina has calculated that from April 2022 to December 2023, the number of newly registered voters in Novi Sad allegedly increased by 38,000. This represents about 10 percent of the electorate, translating to an average of 50 new adult citizens every day.

The Movement for the Restoration of the Kingdom of Serbia (POKS) reported that, according to information they received through a public information request, the number of voters in Novi Sad rose by 2,805 in just 23 days—from the date of the previous year’s elections on December 17 to January 9, 2024. This equates to an average of 122 newly registered adult citizens daily.

POKS also disclosed that their request for access to the voter list was denied by the Novi Sad City Administration.

In Niš, the largest city in the South of the country, the opposition has raised concerns as well, where Serbia Against Violence reported incidents of calls to vote for “phantom voters” during the last elections.

Milan Stamatović, the longstanding president of the Čajetina municipality, discussed voter migrations before the previous elections. He suggested that his party should align with the People’s Movement for the State, initiated by the SNS, with a long-term perspective in mind. He acknowledged the SNS’s ability to transfer secure votes from other locations to Čajetina, which could lead to his party, Healthy Serbia, losing the elections.

The SNS has, in some cases, openly acknowledged these “voter migrations.” Nenad Nešić, the Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, participated in both the parliamentary and local elections in Novi Sad. He later mentioned that he voted in Novi Sad, where he resides, and committed fully to mobilizing all eligible Serbs from the Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska to vote in the Serbian elections. Nešić did not clarify how he could maintain residences in two different countries, especially as a member of the government in one. Moreover, it raises questions about why Nešić would need to transport voters to Serbia when those holding Serbian citizenship are already entitled to vote in parliamentary elections at polling stations within BiH.