Somaliland: “Swerves on the Road” Part 8: Polling Environment and Conduct of Voting Procedures

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Excerpt VIII Polling Environment and Conduct of Voting ProceduresA polling clerk assists a  Burao voter

Somalilandsun – The International Election Observer-IOE Mission to the 2012 local council elections released its final report titled “Swerves on the Road” contained in 40 pages herein published chapter by chapter on a daily basis with a link for those readers interested in reading earlier excerpts or downloading the entire report.

Polling Environment and Conduct of Voting Procedures

Overall, observers reported that polling procedures were well conducted in most polling stations visited. Polling station staff and party agents were mostly diligent in their tasks, and made impressive efforts to adhere to the spirit and direction of electoral procedure. In more than 99 per cent of polling stations observed, IEOs confirmed that all apparently eligible voters were permitted to vote, confirming Somaliland’s strong commitment to universal suffrage.

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Illiterate and disabled voters were appropriately assisted in 95 per cent of cases observed, which represents an improvement on the 2005 parliamentary election, when deficiencies in assistance were observed in 19 per cent of polling stations. The 2012 level was similar to the 97 per cent observed in the 2010 presidential election.7 For all voters, respect for confidentiality remains limited, but this is mostly due to the actions of voters themselves who frequently display no reticence in divulging their choice to all those in the polling station. This, rather than any malicious attempt to compromise secrecy, meant that voting could hardly be described as ‘secret’; a situation that has also been observed in past elections. IEOs noted that most voters understood the electoral procedures and were able to complete the process without difficulty. However, gaps in voter education remain. While the voting process was impressively speedy in many cases, other voters took up to 10 minutes to cast their ballots.

In a number of stations, particularly though not exclusively in Hargeisa, maintaining order in the crowds outside polling stations challenged the capacity of the security forces, who on several occasions resorted to firing in the air to disperse people. In one observed incident in Borama, police recklessly drove their vehicle into a sitting crowd, narrowly avoiding causing injury. Also outside Hargeisa, observers noted on a number of occasions that while situations remained calm, insufficient police were deployed in comparison to the size of crowds. In Erigavo, IEOs noted several instances in which crowds, impatient with waiting towards the end of the day, grew agitated, in two cases throwing stones onto the roof of the polling station in an effort to draw attention to their dissatisfaction. The more heated instances arose when ballot papers had beenexhausted, followed by a long wait for new papers. However, even where there were disturbances, the situation inside polling stations remained mostly calm.

Table 2: Summary of selected polling day observations by IEOs (per cent)

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Security forces’ understanding of their position in election security remains variable, and it was often observed that police officers were present inside polling stations even if the polling station chair had not apparently requested their presence, although they did not otherwise interfere in the process.

As already noted, the most common problem observed on election day pertained to voter safeguards to prevent multiple voting. While indelible ink was usually applied to voters’ fingers in accordance with procedure, many voters had no difficulty in quickly removing the ink. In some areas, the level of organisation involved in removing ink was concerning, with bleach and other materials used in close proximity to polling stations. Some polling stations ran low on ink. Some well-intentioned polling station staff diluted the remaining ink, unfortunately further decreasing its effectiveness. In one polling station in Erigavo, staff were observed confusing ink intended for stamp pads with that supplied for inking fingers, applying a significant quantity of scarce finger ink to a stamp pad.

A further and worryingly frequent observation was that tissues provided with polling station supplies for voters to wipe their fingers prior to inking were in fact used after inking in order to remove ink.

Without a register of voters, the indelible ink was the primary safeguard against multiple voting, and the ease with which it was overcome appeared to allow multiple voting to take place in many areas. Where ink was detected on voters’ fingers, polling station staff usually prevented such individuals from voting again, although this was not always consistent. In a number of instances, polling station staff were observed smelling voters’ fingers for bleach, and excluding those whose fingers were so tainted. IEOs noted that these efforts were often impressive, though they were not apparently sufficient given the scale of observed attempts at voting more than once.

Other efforts to improve electoral integrity were more successful. The swapping of polling station staff from region to region was implemented in most areas, and seems to have improved the professionalism with which the election was administered. While most polling station staff worked hard, most polling station chairs and secretaries, having received more training, were more effective than their scrutineer counterparts, some of whom underperformed in their specific areas of responsibility.

The size of the ballot paper and sometimes poor folding of ballots meant that ballot boxes were in many cases very full, even quite early in the day. A variety of solutions was employed to address the problem: some stations received additional ballot boxes, while in others a stick was used to compress papers already in the box. In a small number of cases non-approved containers (eg plastic bags) were used to hold additional ballots, or ballots were placed on top of the full ballot box. In a few instances, polling station staff were observed breaking the seals on ballot boxes in order to compress the ballot papers inside.

In some polling stations, staff failed to retain the ballot counterfoil, detaching the entire page from the ballot book. This may have weakened ballot reconciliation, as well as potentially compromising the secrecy of the vote. At least in some cases, this appeared to be due to poorly perforated ballot papers.

Thousands of party agents were deployed on election day. Most parties had representation at polling stations visited. However, many did not seem to be fully engaged with the voting process and were often passive, failing to challenge possibly contentious occurrences during voting and counting. Some did not fully understand their roles and became directly involved in election administration. Due to the number of parties involved in this election, large numbers of party representatives contributed to already cramped election stations becoming overly crowded.

voting Despite a ban on vehicle movement on election day, observers noted that many apparently unauthorised vehicles were moving on the roads, with at least some clearly transporting voters to polling stations. This may have facilitated further attempts at multiple voting, although it may also have been a benign (though still illegal) means of transporting voters in more remote areas to polling stations (to vote once).

In the most serious incident observed, in Hargeisa, in mid-afternoon two ballot boxes were removed from a polling station and moved to another, unknown location, despite being filled with ballots and having been used for most of election day. Fortunately, this appears to have been an isolated incident.

While the full report shall be published chapter by chapter on a daily basis interested readers can down load the full report “SWERVES ON THE ROAD” AS SOMALILAND CONTINUES TO DRIVE ITS DEVELOPING DEMOCRACY FORWARD here

Earlier excerpts

Excerpt I Introduction

Excerpt II Previous election observation & Local council elections 2012

Excerpt III The international election observation mission

Excerpt IV An election observer’s experience: a personal reflection

Excerpt V The media

Excerpt VI Assessment of Election Day

Excerpt VII Opening of voting

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