November 8, 2016 / 12:25 PM / 3 years ago

Austria says no further delay to December 4 election, dismisses ballot scare

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria said on Tuesday there was no reason to delay again its presidential election due on Dec. 4 after newspapers reported it was possible to order postal ballots online using fake passport numbers.

Presidential election campaign posters of far right Freedom Party (FPOe) presidential candidate Norbert Hofer are pictured in Vienna, Austria, November 8, 2016. Posters read "for Austria, with heart and soul. So help me God". REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

A new flaw in the electoral system would be a major embarrassment. A re-run of the presidential run-off held in May was already ordered because rules on ballot-counting were broken, which in turn was postponed because of faulty envelopes.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, however, said there was no reason for yet another delay of the re-run between the far-right Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer and former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen.

Having narrowly lost the neck-and-neck contest in May, Hofer could become the European Union’s first far-right head of state. The post is largely ceremonial but the president heads the armed forces and can play an important role in the formation of coalition governments.

Asked if there was any reason to postpone the vote, Sobotka said: “No, absolutely certainly not.”

Two newspapers reported on Monday that they had found it was possible to order postal ballots online using a fake passport number, although it was not clear if they had actually done so.

Sobotka, however, said that while it might be possible to order a postal ballot that way, both the local authority and the postal service were supposed to verify passport details.

One of the newspapers, the Austrian online edition of Switzerland’s Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ), said that in the province of Vorarlberg, where it accessed the online system, such checks were carried out only randomly.

But Sobotka said that there was no sign of any postal ballot having been issued in this case.

“Someone tried something using incorrect means, and nothing happened because a postal ballot was neither issued nor was it registered in any way because it was not sent,” he said. “At least we have no entry (in our system). That means it was a fake, so to speak.”

The police had, however, opened a criminal investigation, he added. Both newspapers said that ordering another person’s postal ballot with a fake passport number is a criminal offense.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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