IEC to recount, audit 8,255 polling stations in 10 categories
Feature Stories - November 14, 2019

IEC to recount, audit 8,255 polling stations in 10 categories

KABUL (Pajhwok): The Independent Election Commission (IEC) says it is recounting and auditing10 types of votes cast at 8,255 polling stations explained below in detail.

A total of 26,580 polling stations remained open on the presidential Election Day on September 28. In order to address a variety of possible irregularities, the IEC in coordination with the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC), has initiated the audit and recount of suspect polling stations to confirm the validity of the voting.

Initially, the IEC identified 8,494 polling stations for investigation that could include both an audit and recount of the ballot boxes, while the Independent Electoral Complaint Commission (IECC) referred another 1,709 polling stations to them for audit and recount. As a result of IEC review, 8,255 polling stations were finally identified for audit and recount. The decrease in the total number is due to the fact that the margin of error in some polling stations was less than five votes and the IEC decided to process those polling stations beneath this threshold.

The IEC leadership passed resolutions No. 104-2019 and No. 105-2019 describing their decisions on polling stations to be recounted and audited.

The IEC says the decisions were taken in consideration to Article 87 of the electoral law and in compliance with the IEC procedures, regulations and other rules for classification and management of election forms and implementation of IECC decisions.

The IEC resolution added that decision No. 104-2019 was linked with the collection and categorization of election results forms and was signed and approved by six commissioners apart from Mawlana Abdullah, made on November 4.

The IEC issued the following orders due to reservations about the ballots cast at the following polling stations:

  1. Votes from 3,893 polling stations, where a difference of over five votes has been noted between information on the biometric device and the result sheets, should be recounted and audited. Officials should be dealt with according to the IEC law and investigated.
  2. The following steps should be in connection to 543 polling stations whose result sheets were available in the digital centre but the original data was not provided to the National Tally Centre (NTC):
  3. Copy of result sheet inside the ballot box should be referred in the presence of observers and agents and the same form should be processed;
  4. If the copy is not available or is not capable of being read or has other flaws, the ballot box should be recounted; and
  5. If the form inside a ballot box is not stamped and signed, or there are indications of rigging, votes therein should be audited and biometric information of voters of that particular polling station dispatched to the provincial IEC office.
  6. The result sheets of 93 polling stations were not available in the digital centre, but its original sheets were in the NTC should be treated as following:
  7. 76 result sheets, where the difference between votes on biometric devices is five or less than five, should be processed in line with rules and regulations [no audit/recount]; however, one of the 76 polling station was ordered for recount by the IECC and that polling station will be audited/recounted, and
  8. 17 result sheets, having a difference of more than five votes with biometric data, should be audited and recounted in line with rules and regulations.
  9. 1,110 polling stations, where the number of votes on result sheets was zero but original forms and biometric data read otherwise, should be processed as in this way:
  10. The result sheets from 533 polling stations, where the difference with biometric data is five or less than five votes, should be processed [no audit/recount]; however, 13 of the 533 polling stations were ordered for recount by the IECC, and those polling stations will be audited/recounted, and
  11. The result sheets from 577 polling stations, where the difference with biometric data is more than five votes, should be audited and recounted in line with rules and regulations.
  12. Votes cast at 23 polling stations, where the number of ballots in the original result sheets is zero but the digital centre and biometric data show ballots, should be recounted and audited.
  13. 23 polling stations referred by the assigned teams to IEC for a decision, should be investigated in light of available documents [no audit/recount].
  14. Votes from 24 polling stations referred by the assigned teams for recount and audit should be recounted.
  15. Votes from 362 polling stations referred by the assigned teams for recount and audit should be recounted.
  16. Votes from 11 polling stations, which were closed by IEC but have biometric data, should be quarantined, investigated and more steps taken in line with rules and regulations [no audit/recount].

BIOMETRIC DATA UNAVAILABLE:

IEC Decision No 105-2019 of the IEC is related to the biometric voter verification devices and memory cards not received from 2,423 polling stations.

The IEC’s decision is signed by five of seven commissioners –HawaAlamNuristani, Syed Esmatullah Mal, Musafir Quqandi, Awrang Zaib and Mohammad Hanif Danishyar.

But IEC Commissioner Rahima Zarifi did not sign the decision, while Commissioner Maulana Abdullah came up with reservations about the decision.

Abdullah wrote by hand: “This decision is against Clause 2 of Article 19 of the amended election law, Clauses 8 and 11 of the audit, recount and quarantine regulations. It provides legitimacy to non-biometric votes that is considered for judicial inquiry due to fraud and rigging.”

Clause 2 of Article 19 of the amended election law says: “Approval of the executive procedures for the purpose of conducting elections.”

Resolution’s decision No. 105-2019 of the IEC involves 2,423 polling station and says:

  1. 1,287 polling stations remained open on Election Day under confirmation of polling station heads, directors of polling centres, district official, local IEC office head, IEC secretariat and security officials and their results have landed at the NTC or digital centre, but related biometric devices and memory chips have not been delivered to the IEC central office and the ballot boxes are available in warehouses of provincial IEC offices without memory chips. In case, there is no report of rigging or violations, these ballot boxes should be audited and recounted in front of observers, agents, media representatives and IECC representatives and the ballot papers should be matched with the biometrics registered in the special recount form and should be reported to the IEC meeting with recount and audit forms.

It maintains the operational and information technology departments of the election commissions are tasked to investigate the matter as to why some biometric data devices and memory chips were not returned to the IEC office.

  • 1,136 polling stations remained open on Election Day with the approval of polling station head, polling centre director, district administration, local IEC head, IEC secretary and security forces, but their result sheets, its snapshots or the biometric memory chip are not available and its data has not been transferred to the centre. The ballot boxes of these polling stations should be readdressed under the clause one of this decision in case there is no report of violations and rigging.
  • In all above mentioned areas, investigation should be conducted in light of documents available and the local IEC head, district officials, polling centre directors and polling station heads should be dealt with in accordance with the law.

In line with IEC resolution that were produced in two separate decisions, 8,494 polling stations were investigated but only 8,255 require an audit and recount. On November 9, IEC Secretary Habib Rahman Nang confirmed that in line with the IEC leadership decision, the 8,255 polling stations in 34 provinces will be audited and recounted.

Based on a list obtained by Pajhwok, provinces with the most polling stations under audit and recount include Kabul with 1,132 stations, Nangarhar 774 stations, Kandahar 741, Paktia 715, Baghlan 712, helmand 590, Paktika 388, Ghazni 346, Khost 327 and Badakhshan 276.

Ghor with 246 stations, Faryab 234, MaidanWardak 193, Kapisa 189, Heart 177, Zabul 154 Logar 152, Kunar 125, Parwan 106, Nuristan 106, Farah 89, Takhar 77, Laghman 60, Daikundi 58, Nimroz 53, Kunduz 51, Sar-i-Pul 43, Balkh 35, Samangan 28, Uruzgan 24, Bamyan 17, Jawzjan 13, Panjsher nine and Badghis five polling stations also considered for audit.

Polling stations that IECC wants to be recounted, audited

In line with the second part of the IEC decision No. 104-2019, the IEC has issued following directives regarding 1,709 polling stations referred by the IECC through a formal letter No. 1399 on October 26 for audit and recount are as follows:

  1. The IECC decision on 117 polling stations, which were among closed polling stations, has been shared with the IEC and a collective discussion was held over the issue.
  2. Regarding 1,592 polling stations referred by the IECC, the final decision will be taken in line with the proceedings of IECC respective of its inclusion in the IEC decision No. 104.

If there is IEC and IECC decision take place simultaneously regarding a polling stations, audit and recount should be carried out.

But IECC Chairperson Zahra Bayan Shinwari told Pajhwok Afghan News that as many as 2,118 polling stations needed a recount. Out of these polling stations, 30 polling centres and 105 polling stations have been invalidated and the list of these polling stations and centres is dispatched to the IEC.

She said the IECC decision regarding the recount of polling stations was applicable and they had firmly demanded an urgent recount of these polling stations, otherwise the IEC provincial heads would face legal consequences.

IEC Deputy Spokesperson Zabihullah Sadaat, said the number of polling stations to be recounted had decreased because some polling stations were repeatedly listed and accompanied other problems.

IEC clarification

IEC Chairperson Hawa Alam Nuristain said the commission has compared all NTC information with the Digital Center and then matched it with voter biometric data provided by Dermalog company for ensuring transparency and separating fraudulent votes from clean ones.

She said 26,580 of 29,586 total polling stations were open and 3,006 were closed on the Election Day. She added that 8,255 of the open polling stations had problems and the commission opted for audit and recount considering election procedures, regulations and resolutions.

“We assure the nation that we will count only biometric and law-based votes as valid. Some candidates are concerned about validation of non-biometric votes, we understand their concern, we want them to pay attention to the IEC decisions, particularly the resolution No. 105 about 2,423 polling stations,” she said.

Nuristani said according to Article 86 of electoral law, Article 9 of conclusion regulation and Article 9 of audit regulation, the IEC was responsible to audit, recount and invalidate votes of polling stations with evident signs of fraud and collect enough documents of the fraud for a decision.

“Therefore, it would be too early to tell whether votes of these polling stations are valid or not until the audit and recount process of votes is complete,” she said, adding decision in this regard will be taken after the audit and recount was over.

An IEC official, who wished to go unnamed, said the IEC is still deciding how to address three additional issues with the results data as identified by the Dermalog company. The first issue involves more than 86,000 voters who were determined as voting more than once due to duplicate photographs, fingerprints, and/or voter registration numbers as recognized by the biometric devices. These ballots have been invalidated and will be removed from the ballot boxes by the IEC based on the code number placed at the back of each ballot.

The second issue has to do with about 102,000 votes that were cast out of the designated polling time between 7am and 5pm on election day due to the non-setup of correct time and date in the biometric devices, as some devices’ date was 2018 while some others showed 2020. Irregular dates in biometric devices created doubts but it was not a fraud but a reason these votes needed a recount and audit, the source said. The IEC intends to investigate the relevant polling stations to determine if the polling took place as scheduled on election day.

Citing an example, he said, “In a polling station, 400 people were registered as voters, but the device showed only six people have voted. If it was an organized fraud, the defrauder could have added all 400 votes to the biometric device. So was not a fraud but a technical problem.”

The third issue is more complex and confusing to the IEC, candidates and other stakeholders. Initially, the Dermalog company had identified a discrepancy between biometric devices that encountered problems on the Election Day and precautionary devices that were used as alternative as noted in a letter to the IEC on October 27. The IEC official said of these devices, the data of one the devices used in a polling station had been transmitted directly to the system, while data of the second device had been entered into the computer and showed a total of 137,460 difference in votes.

Upon further investigation, the Dermalog company indicated in a second letter on November 4 that the 137,460 number was the difference between two types of the same entry of data. The first was the total number of biometric datasets registered and uploaded automatically by the devices (1,929,333), while the second was the total number of processed voters entered manually by the operators of the devices (1,791,703). In short, the 137,460 is only the difference between an automatically collected number and the same number manually collected. Both numbers represent the same figure of biometric votes and as such the manually entered number was inaccurate. The second manual number was already part of the first automatic number and thus was accounted for in the accurate figure.

As a result, the Dermalog company identified 1,929,333 biometric datasets as recorded by the biometric devices on election day. When the 86,266 duplicate voters were subtracted, the remaining total is 1,843,107 voters who only voted once and had cast biometric votes.

The Dermalog company has promised the IEC to provide a clearer and more understandable explanation about how there are not 137,460 votes to be audited, recounted, or invalidated because they do not exist. The 137,460 number is only a calculation, the difference between the two numbers of same biometric votes counted by two different methods as noted above.

Regardless, the IEC has struggled to explain these three results data issues and electoral stakeholders have had difficulty in understanding the issues. This has resulted in some of the presidential campaigns boycotting and blocking the IEC’s audit and recount exercise until a clear explanation can be provide and accepted.

Election oversight institutes:

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FFEFA) said that the IEC should organize an extraordinary meeting with authorized representatives of all candidates and election observers in line with current laws and rules and then share its procedures and its implementation method.

Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) also in a statement asked candidates and stakeholders not to interfere in election commissions’ work and let them do their job in a secure environment.

Electoral Integrity Organizations:

The Electoral Integrity Observation Organizations Network on Wednesday said it supported any legal action from electoral management bodies, but questioned their silence on legality or illegality of the vote recount at provincial level.

“As no consent is obtained within all electoral stakeholders, particularly candidates, with electoral management bodies, a crisis may emerge soon,” warned the network in a statement.

The watchdog said its observation showed provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) offices were closed by supporters of protesting candidates and votes recount was not started.

“First, IEC and IECC should throw light, in cooperation with Darmalog Company, about based on what decisions and technical reasons the ballots of 8,255 should be recounted.”

“Second, in accordance with Election Law and relevant procedures, IEC and IECC should start recounting in presence of all candidate agents, observers and media, and after the consent of all stakeholders is taken,” the statement said.

In addition, the network said, IEC and Darmalog should provide reasonable and legal responses to technical questions about supposedly voting stations.

Election law:

Article 87, clause one of the election law says: “In case the vote counting process is challenged, the Commission and the Complaint Commission may as per the conditions order the re-count of all the ballots or part of them in an electoral constituency prior to the announcement of the final results.”

Clause two says: “A low turnout of people in some of electoral constituencies or polling centers shall not mean jeopardizing the principles of free and universal elections.”

Clause four says: “Allocation of more than 80% of votes in a box in favor of a candidate alone cannot be considered as a reason for fraud, unless there is an objection with justifiable reasons and evidence showing perpetration of crime.”

The IEC kicked off the vote recount and audit process on November 12, but the Stability and Partnership team led by Abdullah Abdullah said the process lacked legitimacy and demanded the recount process to be stopped.

He warned if the vote recount process continued, the country will move towards crisis and its responsibility will on the shoulders of State Builder team.

Election teams of Rahmatullah Nabil and Gulbuddin Hikmatyar have also boycotted the process. The council of nine presidential candidates on November 13 boycotted the process but the State Builder team led by Ashraf Ghani supported the recount.

On November 13, the IEC decided to suspend the audit and recount exercise due to the demands of the candidate campaigns and civil society observer groups. The IEC will seek to address the results data issues noted above so that all stakeholders can feel comfortable with the validity of the electoral process.

Azizullah Hamdard

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