The Austrian Ministry of the Interior has announced an investigation into “voting irregularities” in four towns during the recent presidential election.
In all cases, the FPÖ’s candidate Norbert Hofer won the “live” votes, but lost when the postal votes were counted.
According to an official statement from Interior Ministry spokesman Robert Stein, the “irregularities” all involved the opening and “counting” of postal votes the night before they should have been.
The Interior Ministry has not said that there has been any fraud, and that its investigation—at this stage—merely wants to “close the gaps” in how tens of thousands of postal votes could have lain opened all night.
The investigation will focus on four towns in Carinthia which have so far been confirmed cases.
The investigation was started after the Interior Ministry received an official complaint against the city of Villach in the south, introduced by the state’s official Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s office.
According to the complaint, directed by the head of the electoral commission, postal votes were opened on the Sunday and “counted” without the presence of electoral witnesses.
Officially, all postal votes were supposed to be kept under lock and key, and only opened in the presence of witnesses from on Monday morning.
Stein, who is Head of the Elections Department of the Ministry of the Interior, said in his statement that following on from the Villach complaint, a further three similar cases have been identified.
The three additional towns identified were Villach Land, Wolfsberg, and Hermagor.
In all these cases, it has been confirmed that the postal vote counting started on Sunday without witnesses and in contradiction to the official rules.
According to Stein’s statement, the Interior Ministry has already sent an official notification of investigation to the office of the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor.
In addition, the Federal Election Commission has also been advised of the impending investigation.
“The Interior Ministry has placed top priority in making a full investigation of the suspected irregularities,” Stein said in his press release.
In Villach, Hofer won with 56.2 percent of the votes before the postal ballots were counted.
Hofer also won in Villach Land with 59.3 percent, and in Wolfsberg where he took 67.6 percent. In Hermagor, Hofer won 54.4 percent of the vote.
However, the communist-Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen was allocated the vast majority of the 12,378 postal votes in the four towns, pushing him into the lead in three of them.
The FPÖ had earlier announced that it suspected that the postal ballots in many more places had been opened and “counted” on the Sunday evening of the election.
The party has not yet laid any formal challenge to the election results—which saw their candidate lose by 31,006 votes.
If further and deeper cases should emerge of irregularities, the FPÖ’s attitude on the matter might yet change.