KABUL (Pajhwok): The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) on Sunday asked the electoral body to establish additional polling stations for the runoff election and review reasons for ballot paper shortages during the first round." height="1" width="1">
In its findings, FEFA said the Independent Election Commission (IEC) had established over 20,000 polling stations nationwide on April 5 but the stations proved not enough to allow all voters access to the sites.
In most populated areas, the watchdog said, voters had been unable to cast votes due to shortage of ballot papers.
“According to voting procedures, 600 ballot papers must be available in each polling station. The casting process shouldn’t take more than a minute because 9 hours for the whole 600 papers are required to be used in a normal pace,” the FEFA said in a statement.
It said shortfall of ballots in early hours of voting could be ambiguous in its own nature and measures taken by the IEC in this regard required a thorough evaluation.
As recommended by FEFA in its Election Day brief report released on April 9, it was expected that IEC would conduct a profound assessment on the issue, but so far such an assessment’s findings -- if took place --- have not been made public.
FEFA’s verified findings based on quick reports from observers on Election Day formed the groundwork for this brief analytical report, the statement said.
It said FEFA observers were allowed to enter polling stations at a time when the stations had run out of ballot papers.
“FEFA will provide a series of analyses on major lessons learned that are considered significant to the process.”
The first issue that FEFA wanted to bring to the commission’s attention was the early shortfall of ballots and its relation with fraud.
Running short on ballot papers within barely two hours of voting in a number of polling stations (on April 5) was a serious concern noticed by FEFA’s observers.
“Ballot papers can run short in a normal process too as long as they withstand at least the first 5-6 hours of voting. But the issue of concern is a potential correlation between the premature ballot shortfalls and ballot stuffing in most of these polling stations.”
This issue could also be linked to those incidents where observers were denied entrance to a number of polling stations in early hours of voting, the watchdog observed.
It said 600 voters could normally vote in one polling station and if the level of participation was high, officials of that particular polling center could share the issue with provincial IEC in advance and ask for installation of extra stations in the polling center.
FEFA’s observation findings showed at least around 779 polling stations ran out of ballot papers sometime during the day on April 5, most of which were located in Kabul, Paktia, Herat, Baghlan, Kandahar, Ghor, Samangan, Bamyan, Ghazni, Badakhshan and Balkh.
At the same time, the IEC had also considered 548 precautionary stations across the country to be used as new stations in the centers where level of participation and potential ballot shortfall was high.
Despite precautionary measures taken by the IEC, most of the participants were deprived of their right to cast votes due to the shortfall of ballots and lack of supplementary polling stations.
Premature ballot shortfalls, ballot stuffing and denied entry to polling stations, FEFA’s observation findings indicated at least 779 polling stations ran out of ballot papers on the Election Day.
“Some polling stations ran short on ballot papers very early after opening, which can raise questions on the reasons for this early shortfall. Following a thorough study of the data of observation, FEFA was able to identify 592 stations that experienced early shortfall of ballots before noon.”
It was also noticed that in 298 of these stations where ballots were exhausted before noon, FEFA observers were denied entrance to the polling stations in early hours of voting.
“This happened at the same locations as major incidents of ballot stuffing were reported from 518 polling stations.”
After an accurate analysis and cross tabulation of data, 77 stations were identified where, FEFA’s observers were denied access to stations in first hours of the day, and ballot papers were run out earlier than the procedure suggest and boxes were stuffed.
“This number constitutes 12 percent of the total number of polling stations that faced early shortfall of ballots based on FEFA findings.”
Some polling stations had consumed all 600 ballot papers in less than four hours. FEFA findings also showed in some polling stations ballot papers were exhausted within barely two hours of voting.
FEFA observers had also reported that they were not allowed to enter polling stations within first hours of voting. While in these stations, FEFA claimed, ballot papers were also exhausted earlier than expected.
Such incidents have been reported mainly from Herat, Paktia, Baghlan, Kandahar, Khost, Badakhshan, Paktika, Ghazni, Parwan, Laghman and Maidan Wardak provinces.
To avoid the issue of early ballot shortfalls in the second round, FEFA said the IEC had added 2518 extra polling stations around the country.
In contrary to what was expected and recommended by FEFA, IEC was yet to provide a concrete explanation if the addition had occurred based on a systematic assessment.
FEFA’s analyses on premature ballot shortfall and its relation with fraud showed that at least 251 extra polling stations were being added to those questionable centres.
“Should those early shortfall of ballots be a result of fraud, additional stations being
placed in these centers would be simply an encouragement of fraudulent behaviours. Therefore, the allocation of new polling stations is still in need of a systematic assessment by the IEC and requires proper monitoring by observers and candidates’ agents. “
Ballot shortfalls whether normal or not, disenfranchised an unknown number of people who were enthusiastically waiting for long hours to vote.
“If a polling station runs out of ballots naturally or if the ballots are misused for fraud, voters are the ones who will lose their legitimate right of voting. “
Considering the lessons learned from the first round of election, FEFA urged the IEC to establish new, separate stations in populated regions in the runoff.
The IEC should review reasons behind shortage of polling stations and undertake necessary measures to establish new stations after a thorough assessment and the reasons should be shared with the public.
FEFA also urged the electoral commissions to establish a joint committee and review the early shortfall of ballots and share the results of their assessment with the public.
It appreciated the dismissal of 3000 IEC staff who were involved in fraud and some had denied observers entry to polling stations.
The IEC says security forces have adopted tight measures to protect polling centres in remote districts.
The body also says precautionary stations have been added to polling centres in areas, where the turnout was observed high in the first round.
But FEFA spokesman Fahim Naeemi told a news conference that it remained unclear if the IEC had surveyed areas before adding more sites.
“Our information suggests precautionary polling sites have not been established in areas where they are needed,” he said.