Vote tourism and gerrymandering in Hungarian village

Újszentiván, a village near the city of Szeged in southeast Hungary, has experienced an amazing population boom.  According to the local administration’s documentation, 400 people moved into the village in the past three years, boosting the number of residents to above 2000. This is a significant 25% growth compared to the ca. 1600 residents recorded in the 2011 census.

Allegedly, the population boom is due to Serbian citizens registering as residents in order to obtain Schengen visas. In exchange, they will give their vote to the mayor at the local elections this autumn. The mayor, Lázár Putnik, claims he has no knowledge of cases where 30-40 Serbian citizens have been registered as permanent residents in the village at the same address. He believes the population growth is due to young families deciding to move to Újszentiván from the nearby city of Szeged. This explanation is unlikely as in the past three years no new houses have been built in the village and there was also no significant growth in the number of children. However, the number of voters in the village grew with an additional 200 people.

It is unclear whether politics played a role in the unexpected population growth. It is worth noting however that the new election law redistributed the county’s constituency in several electoral districts, leaving the historically left leaning Szeged divided into two parts. The intention of gerrymandering was the most obvious in the district where Újszentiván is located. There were only two constituencies outside the capital where the left-wing coalition won at the elections held last weekend; one of them was a constituency in this county.

 This text was originally posted on 02 April 2014. Editing by Orsolya Gulyás.