Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

The facilitation of expatriate voting in Greece

Fereniki Panagopoulou, Assistant Professor at Panteion University

Ι. Introduction

The Greek legislature recently introduced legislation to facilitate the voting of expatriates in Greece, allowing, in this instance, voting for all expatriates registered in the electoral rolls. The previous laws had stringent conditions that made it challenging for expatriates to exercise their voting rights. Voting requires physical presence and does not make use of the option of postal voting, let alone electronic voting.

II. The Greek constitutional framework

The Greek constitutional legislature provides in Article 108 for the preservation of the ties of expatriate Greeks with their homeland. Maintaining national ties is also achieved by ensuring the participation of voters from outside the territory in the political life of their country of origin. In this context, Article 51 par. 4(b) of the Constitution provides for the possibility of legislative regulation for the exercise of the right to vote for voters residing outside the Greek territory. At the same time, Article 54 par. (4) also has provisions in place for establishing conditions for exercising the right to vote by voters residing outside the country.

In its judgment against Greece for failing to provide Greek voters outside Greece with the opportunity to vote, the European Court of Human Rights (Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos v. Greece, 42202/07, 15.3.2012) ruled that Greece’s failure to provide the applicants with the opportunity to vote from their place of residence abroad does not constitute a violation of Article 3 of the First Additional Protocol to the ECHR (right to free elections).  Even so, the ruling did not exempt Greece from its political obligation to ensure that its citizens can vote outside their own country, as provided for in 37 ECHR Member States.  The agitation of the issue at the time resulted, later on, in the (very limited, in terms of law) provision for the participation of Greek citizens outside the territory.

Indeed, the 2019 revision of the Constitution saw the addition of paragraph 4 to Article 54,  which sets out the following: “Under the law referred to in paragraph 4 of Article 51, conditions may be imposed on the exercise of the right to vote at the place of residence by voters residing outside the territory, such as a real link with the country, in-person presence at a polling station, absence from the country or presence in the country for a certain period in the past. The law referred to in the previous subparagraph may specify that certain seats on the national ballot paper of each party under paragraph 3 of the present Article shall be compulsorily occupied by Greeks expatriates. A law may prescribe that the vote of electors voting in polling stations outside the territory shall not be counted in a specific constituency but only at the level of the territory. The law referred to in paragraph 1 of the present Article may designate one or more constituencies of expatriate Greeks, notwithstanding paragraph 2 of the present Article”.

Subparagraph (c) of Article 51 par. 4 disconnects the possibility of exercising the right to vote for voters outside the territory from the principle of simultaneous voting and adds the possibility of establishing postal voting or any other appropriate means of voting. In this respect, distance e-voting could well be considered an appropriate method.

It should be noted that under Article 51 par. 4 of the Constitution,“A law passed by a majority of two-thirds of the total number of members of Parliament may prescribe the provisions concerning the exercise of the right to vote by voters outside the territory”. Hence, a majority of 200 out of 300 members of the Greek parliament are required to adopt a law on expatriates, meaning that the law on expatriates must be the result of a consensus of the political forces.

III. The Greek legislative framework

The facilitation of the voting of expatriate voters in the electoral body under Greek law began tentatively with Law No. 4648/2019, which regulates, to a greater extent, voting from abroad.  A necessary precondition for registration on the special electoral rolls of out-of-state voters is that voters must meet the following criteria:

First, they must have resided for a total of two years within the Greek territory within the last thirty-five years from the date of submission of the application for registration, which may raise questions of proof. Secondly, they must have filed a tax return in the current or previous tax year.

The passing of the foregoing law was the product of a compromise between the political forces at the time, as it required, according to Article 51 par. 4 of the Constitution, the securing of 200 votes (out of the 300 total members of parliament), for it to be valid for the next elections.

In April 2021, the New Democracy government proposed a new bill to remove all restrictions on the exercise of the right to vote from abroad. The bill was then approved by 3 parties (New Democracy, PASOK-KINAL and Greek Solution) and 190 members of parliament. Therefore, it did not receive the required majority of 200 members of parliament.

Law No. 5044/2023 was recently voted on by 208 members of parliament, representing four out of the eight parties currently in parliament: New Democracy, PASOK-KINAL, The Victory, and Course of Freedom voted in favor, while SYRIZA, Τhe Spartians and KKE objected, and Greek Solution expressed reservations, requesting time to test the current regime. Even though this law aims to ensure the universality of the right to vote for all citizens, it does not actually grant the right to vote to someone who does not have it: what it does is offer an opportunity/facilitation to participate in elections without having to travel to Greece in order to vote. Furthermore, it strengthens the ties of Greeks abroad with the homeland, by enhancing their active interest in what is happening in Greece. The law aims to streamline the current framework that currently results in a “two-tier” dispersion: the wealthy who can afford the cost of travelling to Greece to vote and those who reside in nearby countries, and those who cannot afford to travel or who live in very distant countries.

SYRIZA expressed reservations about the new law, warning of a “threat to democracy.” They argued that since citizenship is granted based on descent, there is a potential risk of indiscriminate use of the new regulation. The KKE also raised concerns, stating that the bill could lead to the distortion of the electorate and the electoral result. By eliminating previous requirements, the law might create a massive and immeasurable electorate, including voters with no economic or social ties to Greece, who may visit the country solely for holidays and vote based on the social and political conditions of their residence countries. Most importantly, these voters would face no consequences from the political choices they make.In response to the law, SYRIZA proposed an amendment suggesting the creation of four expatriate electoral districts, allowing Greeks abroad to elect their representatives independently. The proposal also recommends a single ballot paper for each district and advocates for all Greek citizens with the legal capacity to vote and be elected to participate without further restrictions or conditions.

IV. Comments

The facilitation of expatriates’ right to vote and their inclusion in the electoral process is considered a positive step towards upholding the principle of the universality of voting. In this context, the focus is on enabling the exercise of an existing right rather than granting a new right to vote. The previous legislation’s stringent conditions significantly impeded the ability to vote, resulting in a meager 18,000 expatriate Greeks participating in recent elections.The provision of voting rights to expatriates, contingent upon their registration on the electoral rolls, is not a novel concept unique to Greece.

For instance, US citizens resident abroad are eligible to vote in all Presidential and Congressional elections. Hence, if you were born abroad to a US citizen parent, and never lived in the US, you may be entitled to vote in the state in which your American parent last lived. It does not matter how long you have been living abroad, whether you ever intend to return to the US, whether you have voted before, or whether you maintain a residence in the US. Even so, in order to vote you have to be registered: to register to vote you need to use the last residential address where you lived in the United States. Yet, comparing Greece with the US is not an easy task given the different population sizes of the two countries.

There are concerns regarding whether citizens who are not familiar with the realities of Greece will be adequately equipped to make decisions on Greek events. It is possible for someone to be registered on the Greek electoral rolls and visit Greece, at best, only for vacation, without a proper understanding of the special aspects of Greek society. Nevertheless, this viewpoint is countered by the importance of supporting expatriate Greeks and integrating them into Greek life in general. Encouraging second and third-generation expatriates to take an interest in the public affairs of Greece is crucial, motivating them to become active even from abroad. A brief survey of Greek history leads us to the conclusion that Greeks living overseas were the ones who stirred the Greek nation with their ideas and laid the groundwork for the Greek revolution. Let us not forget that the Famous Society of Friends was initiated by Greeks residing abroad, and it was the contributions and support from Greeks living overseas, such as Ioannis Varvakis, Evangelos Zappas, and Andreas Syngros, that played a significant role in beautifying Greece through their generous donations.

To achieve this goal, contemporary Greeks residing abroad must take action through overseas Greek communities, fostering a collective motivation to support their homeland. At the same time, we should remain mindful of the fact that historical comparisons are not fixed in time and place, as this is something that could render them ineffective. Greece, being a small country with a population of approximately 11 million residents, faces the possibility of a higher voter turnout among expatriates compared to domestic residents if all Greeks residing overseas are encouraged to vote.Perhaps, in this direction, there should only be one condition and not the complex and unprovable ones of the previous law, i.e. perhaps it would be appropriate to make it a requirement that only those expatriates who have been absent abroad for the last fifteen years should vote. In this way, a potential member of the expatriates who ought to be active in Greek affairs may be excluded from the electorate. Moreover, the implementation of this approach might encounter evidentiary challenges. Considering the aforementioned points and emphasizing the importance of not excluding active expatriates, it is deemed reasonable to require registration in electoral rolls as a precondition for participation in Greek elections by out-of-state Greeks.

This law appears to be a result of political compromise between parties, necessitated by the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds majority of members of parliament to pass significant legislation. However, it seems to overlook the predicament of domestic voters who are unable to exercise their voting rights due to working away from their place of residence. Additionally, the law does not address the possibility of implementing postal voting as an alternative method, which could enable such individuals to cast their votes conveniently.These aspects point to potential shortcomings in the law, which could be improved upon to ensure a fair and accessible electoral process for all citizens.

Most notably, on both occasions, the legislative body seemed hesitant to embrace the opportunity of implementing postal voting or, still less, electronic voting, even if solely for out-of-state voters. By doing so, they could have avoided relying on outdated methods that impose inconvenience upon voters, compelling them to travel extensive distances to remote polling stations.

As to the adoption of electronic voting, it is deemed that, following the broader digitalization of public services, Greek society is now in a position to gradually implement it. The introduction of electronic voting for out-of-state citizens would have ensured the principle of simultaneous elections, allowing voters to cast their ballots electronically from the comfort of their homes at any time. At the same time, it could have also served as a gradual step towards a broader transition to electronic voting for the entire population.

Suggested citation: Fereniki Panagopoulou, The facilitation of expatriate voting in Greece, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Aug. 27, 2023, at:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *