International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the largest election observer organization in Georgia, has called for a vote re-count in hundreds of “problematic” polling stations.
ISFED said that after examining vote tally protocols from all polling station across the country, its observers identified number of significant trends, involving a high number of void ballot papers and irregularities in drawing up final vote summary protocols in hundreds of precincts; there are 3,617 polling stations in the country.
ISFED said that it assessed voting day of local elections on June 15 “quite positively” although there were some isolated cases of disrupting voting process at some polling stations, as well as cases of ballot stuffing.
“Considering that the scale of such incidents was limited and the election administration took further actions in response by annulling results at polling stations concerned, these violations have not had any impact on final election day results,” the election monitoring group said in a statement on June 23.
“However, we must note that not only the process of polling but also tabulation of results and drawing up of summary protocols is essential for having transparent and fair elections, all which will allow us to assess the influence that these processes have had on the final election results and whether the conduct of elections has been democratic,” ISFED said.
ISFED has noted high rate of void ballot papers in these elections. Compared to 2010 local elections (when number of ballot papers a voter had to fill outside Tbilisi was two instead of three in 2014 elections), the rate of spoilt papers increased by 4 percentage points to 5% in 2014. Most of the void ballot papers (5%) were among party-list vote, according to ISFED, followed by majoritarian vote for Sakrebulo candidates in single-mandate constituency, gamgebeli and mayoral races (an average of 4% each).
3.97% of ballots, cast in Tbilisi mayoral race in the June 15 elections, were void; the figure stood at about 1.5% in Tbilisi mayoral election four years ago, according to Civil.ge estimations.
The highest rate of void ballot papers was reported from municipalities located in Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions (average of 8-9%), as well as in Sagarejo municipality in eastern region of Kakheti, according to ISFED, which also said that in some municipalities of those regions rate of void ballots is over 15%.
ISFED said it is not ruled out that high rate of void ballot papers might be caused by complexity of local elections – voters had to fill three separate ballot papers, one for party-list vote, second one for majoritarian seat contest in Sakrebulos and the third one for mayor or gamgebeli candidates.
One possible reason behind the high number of void ballot papers, according to ISFED, could have been protest votes. Ballots in Georgia have no option of “none of these candidates” and if a voter opts for a protest vote – either by leaving it blank or spoiling it by some other way, such a ballot is considered as void.
ISFED also said that over 1,000 irregularities have been found in final vote summary protocols of hundreds of precinct election commissions.
According to the observer organization, various data are absent on up to 500 summary protocols, such as seal of precinct election commission, signature of precinct members or date.
According to ISFED, figures did not reconcile in up to 500 vote summary protocols, meaning that number of votes cast for entities running in elections and void ballots either exceed or fall short of total number of voters who turned out at those particular polling stations on the election day. Some protocols with such irregularities are attached with correction protocols to rectify irregularities, but in most of the cases it was done at a later stage by upper election administration bodies (district election commissions or by the Central Election Commission).
Initial data were altered in about 50 summary protocols, according to ISFED; most of such cases (24) were reported from precincts located in Akhalkalaki and Akhaltsikhe municipalities of Samtskhe-Javakheti region.
In overall, most of the irregularities in final vote summary protocols were observed in precincts located in Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions, as well as in Tbilisi, according to the election monitoring group.
ISFED welcomed that District Election Commissions and Central Election Commission were reacting “promptly” to address these irregularities in the protocols from precincts by either correcting those shortcomings or re-counting results in a number of instances.
According to ISFED these irregularities could have been a result of “unqualified” election officials at the polling stations.
“CEC should comprehensively examine all facts and bring administrative and disciplinary measures of liability against members of commission[s] who have committed important violations and mistakes. Further, these persons should no longer be recruited as commission members for future elections,” ISFED said.
“ISFED also believes that high rate of invalid ballots could have been caused by the complexity of local self-government elections and/or nihilistic approach of the population towards the elections. However, we also believe that to increase trust in the election process, before tabulating final results of the election the election administration should first recount results at polling stations where the number of invalid ballots is quite high, as well as at polling stations where figures did not reconcile and important inaccuracies were found in summary protocols,” the monitoring organization said. “We believe that to ensure transparency of the process, all stakeholders – representatives of election subjects, political parties and international and local non-governmental organizations should be invited to attend the recount.”
Some opposition parties, among them the United National Movement, are challenging results from dozens of polling stations in courts; those precincts are from, among others, Rustavi, Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Martvili and Tsalenjikha municipalities, as well Tbilisi and Samtskhe-Javakheti region.
Repeat elections have been set for June 29 in those seven precincts where local election results were either annulled or voting process disrupted on the polling day.
On June 23 one of UNM leaders and party’s campaign chief, Gigi Ugulava, called on the Central Election Commission to name the date when it plans to hold second round runoffs for mayoral races in eight cities and gamgebeli posts in thirteen municipalities.
According to the law date of second round can only be set after final vote tally protocols are approved by election administration and after adjudication of all the disputed precincts are over in courts.
The Central Election Commission has said earlier that tentative date for second round might be by mid-July.