The American political system is in shambles. But at least we can take solace knowing that we’re not alone this year. Austria (the one in Europe with the Schwarzeneggers, not the one with the kangaroos) is having some major problems with their current presidential election. And it’s all because of some defective envelopes.
Austria’s in-person vote for president was scheduled for October 2nd. But officials are now scrambling to push back the date, since it’s been discovered that mail-in ballots are invalid. The reason? The glue on the envelopes for the ballots is shoddy, causing them to open in the mail. This, of course, is a problem. Who’s to say that a ballot hasn’t been tampered with before it arrives at its destination?
“I must acknowledge that a ballot-card production error is the reason why we cannot guarantee an election that is irreproachably in conformity with the law,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka as saying at a news conference in Vienna today. “We cannot estimate today how many and which of these ballot cards could still open.”
The goal is to push back the vote until December 4th. The two main contenders in the election are the centrist candidate Alexander Van der Bellen and the far right candidate Norbert Hofer.
Norbert Hofer, a member of the Austria’s Freedom Party, has positioned himself as a populist and has run on a strongly anti-immigrant platform. Some people have even called Hofer “Austria’s Donald Trump.”
Notably, the Freedom Party was originally founded by former Nazi SS members and Hofer has become notorious for inserting the Austrian political version of dog whistles into his manifestos and clothing that might lead one to believe he’s sympathetic to neo-Nazi causes. As just one example, Hofer has worn a blue cornflower symbol on his lapel as late at 2013. When the Nazi party was banned in Austria from 1934 until 1938, Nazi sympathizers in Austria would wear the symbol as a secret way to identify each other.
When journalists ask members of the Freedom Party about the blue cornflower some will bend over backwards to say something about a tradition that dates back to the 1840s, but others will just say, “The cornflower is simply the Freedom Party flower and we like it,” as one member of the party told the BBC in May. The latter seems to be a more honest answer with much more terrifying implications for Europe.
Hofer has also proposed a ban on burqas, but some backers have said that in recent months Hofer has “softened” his stance on both immigrants and Islam. But Hofer has very clearly said “Islam has no place in Austria.”
Naturally, members of the Freedom Party aren’t happy that the vote in Austria is being delayed by this envelope debacle. Especially since this vote is the result of a run-off in the first place. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the delay could energize Hofer’s base and get anti-establishment voters to turn out in December. That certainly sounds familiar to Americans. Again, it’s at least comforting to know that we’re not alone in the great political clusterfuck that is 2016.