Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lessons from the 2005 Afghan parliamentary election

I am writing to segue from the previous entry (blog of 13 September, "The blindside of automating the 2010 Philippine elections") on the importance of carefully designing ballots and field testing ballot designs for the Philippines' 2010 automated elections.

This system in 2010 will use paper ballots with the candidates' names pre-printed on it. The voter will shade the oval beside the name of each of the candidates of her/his choice and after filling up the ballot, feed it into a machine that will scan the image and count the shaded ovals. The results will then be consolidated by the same machine and a precinct counting report, or election return, will be generated. Election returns will be printed by the same machine and the results will also be electronically transmitted to a central server (for further consolidation) and to the servers of the political parties and the accredited citizens' arm of the Comelec, like that of Namfrel, which received accreditation for parallel counts since the elections of 1986.

It is also important to use the lessons from the field testing to input into the voter information/education process in order to reduce the chances of voter error in filling out the ballot.

The other important pieces of information that should also be generated for each elective position by the automated election system are:

1. the number of voters who voted (turnout);
2. the number of valid or counted votes (for all candidates of a position);
3. the number of blanks or where the voter did not indicate any vote;
5. the number of over votes;
6. the number of invalid ballots (where the entire ballot was rejected and none of the votes cast on the ballot were counted); and
7. a check figure that should indicate whether the sum of the figures from No. 2 to No. 6 is equal to the figure in No. 1.

On the ballot design and voter information, let me share with you what I saw in Kabul in 2005.

18 September 2005 Kabul - Voters examine tabloid-type ballots. The Kabul province ballot (blue) for the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) is seven pages and has 390 candidate names, photos and symbols. The provincial shura or council ballot (yellow) is four pages with 217 candidates.

18 September 2005, Amirshir Ali Khan School, Karte Parwan, Kabul - This elderly voter must have taken 15 minutes in the voting booth. Without eyeglasses and in low light, he [came out of the voting booth] turned in his unfilled ballot saying, "I cannot find my candidate." I wonder if he knew that he could ask for assistance. The pollling officials sadly did not offer any.

I was privileged to witness the 2004 and 2005 elections in Afghanistan; their first after 40 years. These photos are mine and I took them during the parliamentary elections in 2005.

My stint in Afghanistan started in early 2004 with the National Democratic Institute to assist in the formation, operationalization and mentoring of the country's first Namfrel-like organization, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA). FEFA first saw action in the presidential election in 2004 and consequently in the 2005 parliamentary election.

FEFA figured prominently in the 2010 presidential elections by citing election fraud committed during the voter registration process, during the campaign, and during the casting of votes on August 20. Their observations were corroborated by international election observers. A recount in many polling stations is underway and it is possible that there will be a run-off election between the top two vote getters, perhaps sometime in October.

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