As you may know, on June 23, 2014, ISFED published a statement urging the election administration to recount results at problematic polling stations. To ensure increased trust and transparency, ISFED also demanded that various stakeholders, including representatives of civil sector, international organizations and election subjects be invited to attend the process of recount. Notably, several days prior to publishing the statement ISFED provided the Central Election Commission (CEC) with the list of polling stations where considerably high percentage share of invalid ballots was found. In particular, ISFED recommended that the CEC recount results in 109 summary protocols of 66 polling stations where percentage share of invalid ballots was 15% or more (see the attached document for the list of the polling stations).
The CEC stated that it examined 109 summary protocols from 66 polling stations and found several causes of the high number of invalid ballots, including voters checking more than one candidate or crossing out all candidates in majority of the cases at 63 polling stations. Further, in a number of cases votes were cast only through one ballot, leaving the remaining two ballots empty.
Regrettably, we find it hard to understand how the election administration identified these causes - whether it was by recounting invalid ballots or based on verbal statement of district election commissions. Despite our recommendation, ISFED and other monitoring organizations were not invited to attend to monitor the process of examining and analyzing the facts.
On July 2, during joint discussions of the issue, the CEC alleged that our recommendation to have the results recounted was an attempt to “purposefully mislead the population” and accused us of being incompetent. We believe that instead of criticizing monitoring organizations, the CEC should have recounted results from problematic polling stations under its own initiative, which would have dispelled valid suspicious that various election stakeholders and monitoring organizations have, based on high share of invalid ballots and improperly drawn summary protocols.
We would like to also note that the CEC does not share the view expressed by some members of the CEC saying that monitoring organizations are stationed in ambush during the complaints process, waiting to file in higher election administration and/or court over any insignificant fact or decision.
We would like to remind to individual members of the CEC that it is the responsibility of a monitoring mission to take further legal actions on any violation of the Election Code of Georgia.
Filing of complaints or any other actions taken by ISFED in response to violations identified mostly serve the following two important goals: 1. help the election administration identify incompetent staff in order to replace them with qualified personnel in the future and focus on problematic issues during capacity building trainings for PEC members; 2. elaborate recommendations for improving the election administration.
Per ISFED’s strategy of monitoring elections, right after detecting a violation observer gives verbal instruction to members of election commission concerned, in order for the responsible persons to take adequate further actions in a timely manner and remedy the problem. If PEC manages to remedy the problem, only a reproof is recorded in the logbook. If the commission fails to take adequate further actions, observer files subsequent complaint.
Notably, during the June 15, 2014 local self-government elections ISFED’s observers recorded 79 reproofs in logbooks, suggesting that PECs were able to take adequate actions in response to violations, which is why we did not file subsequent complaints. In addition to reproofs, ISFED filed 160 complaints to district election commissions (DECs), majority of which sought imposition of disciplinary liability on PEC members. Based on complaints filed by ISFED, up to 200 members of election commission were imposed with a disciplinary liability.
Clearly, at June 15 elections we found that PEC members were poorly qualified, as especially suggested by the process of drawing up summary protocols (ISFED found that up to 500 summary protocols were missing necessary attributes; further, in over 500 summary protocols the number of election subjects and invalid ballot was more than the number of voters who cast ballots or in many cases it was significantly less than the number of voters who cast ballots. Further, one or more pieces of data were corrected in some of the summary protocols. Majority of these protocols were later attached with protocols of correction but we believe that most of the statements and reasons for making these corrections are not solidified with substantiated arguments.
Regrettably, individual members of the CEC have expressed their concern over monitoring organizations being “incompetent”. Instead of discussing actual problems, the CEC attempted divert the attention from important problems detected in the work of the election administration by criticizing monitoring organizations.
We remain hopeful that the CEC will approach to the criticism constructively, act professionally and thoughtfully in its work, and take all measures possible to build high public trust in its activities, which will in turn promote trust in election processes.