The National, Wednesday July 11th, 2012
WE are the land of the unexpected indeed.
Just when the sky was overcast with doom and gloom and mischief and mishap, there appears that gem like a hole in the clouds through which the sun’s rays break through.
Such a gem is the agreement by all the candidates of Unggai-Bena electorate in the Eastern Highlands that they would cooperate to ensure polling, which begins today in the electorate, is trouble-free.
The 29 candidates made a public statement at the Unggai-Bena district office yesterday to make known their united stand to the people.
Speaking on their behalf, former diplomat Kiatro Abisinito said they decided to come together and assist the Electoral Commission in conducting polling in a friendly atmosphere where the people could vote freely without any undue influence and harassment.
The candidates agreed to have five of their members sign on the inside of the ballot boxes before the boxes are taken out to the 76 polling sites and confirm the signatures when the boxes are returned.
This gesture might not erase foul play completely but that all the candidates have agreed to this is an excellent start.
It will send signals to all their supporters that polling must be peaceful.
It is an excellent gesture from candidates in an electorate that has experienced much instability by way of tribal fights over decades.
And Abisinito is quite right in saying that such a gesture will also begin the long road to erasing the bad image that the electorate has because of the tribal fights in the area.
How one wishes that this kind of cooperation occurred in all the other electorates throughout the country.
That said, what are the rules for counting of votes in counting rooms throughout the country?
Every counting room should be arranged in a standard way and the procedure of counting uniform throughout the country.
We are hearing complaints from many parts that would suggest to us that the arrangements are not uniform.
Ideally, the arrangement should be so that there is a central table where electoral commission officials pour out marked ballot papers.
Only authorised election officials should operate in and around that area.
The table should be marked off and authorised scrutineers of candidates carrying Ids should be placed behind this.
The scrutineers should be separated by security officers who ensure members of the public do not intrude into these areas.
The process of counting is also meticulous and must be observed. Before any polling is done, the polling official in charge of a polling venue turns a ballot box inside out to show there is no paper inside.
Then he gives the box number and the numbers of each of the four plastic tags that they use to seal the boxes. When all voting is ended a fifth seal is used to lock the slot where the votes have been slipped through.
The seal number is also announced and the scrutineers for each candidate are supposed to note this down.
When the boxes are brought to the counting area the very first thing that must happen is for every box number to be checked against the numbers that have been announced publicly at each polling area.
That done, Electoral Commission officials must next unseal the five plastic seals and read out the numbers.
They should correspond with the numbers announced before voting began in each area.
If that is followed to the letter, then the identity of the box is secured. Next, the ballot box should be tipped on the table so that all the votes in the boxes are in the open on the table.
From there Electoral Commission officials should pick up the votes, call out the names of the first preferences marked on the paper and then ensure the scrutineers see the names before it is placed in the tray marked for each candidate.
It is essential that the scrutineers get to see the names on the ballot papers otherwise it opens the way for fraudulent behaviour.
We have received complaints that in some counting rooms the electoral officials just call out the names and then move them into trays without any checking whatsoever.
Essentially, a team working in concert can just move any votes into a favoured candidate’s tray and that is the end of the elections.
If the little checks are done well, there ought to be no complaints about foul play at all.
The system employed is simple but fool proof if only the process is followed to the letter. It is the short cuts that pave the way for foul play.