Austria’s Constitutional Court began questioning 90 election officials and assessors Monday in Vienna at an unprecedented hearing that will determine whether Alexander Van der Bellen was rightfully elected president. The populist Freedom Party challenged the election, in which its candidate Norbert Hofer lost by just over 30,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast, by alleging some ballots were opened too early and others were counted by people not authorized to do so. Witnesses from the Innsbruck region confirmed some of the allegations but said they were a long-standing practice needed to count the votes in time and didn’t compromise the results. Along with 13 other justices on the bench, the court’s top judge, Gerhart Holzinger, 69, posed questions to a rural electoral official from the western province of Tirol. At issue was whether the court case was necessary in order to address an Austrian vote-counting system whose complex rules may have rendered it practically unmanageable.
“So you’re saying, at least in your case, that this procedure is essential,” Holzinger asked the head of the electoral commission from Innsbruck-Land. “Because otherwise, in practice, the rules of the law wouldn’t be at all manageable. Did I understand that correctly?”
Austria’s Interior Ministry, which oversaw the election, has rejected the challenge and said all responsible election committees signed off on the results. The witnesses heard so far confirmed that they signed protocols that didn’t mention the deviations from the rules, saying that they trusted the procedure and didn’t read the protocols they signed in their entirety.