The National Election Committee yesterday defended its decision to print 1.5 million extra ballots for the upcoming commune elections, saying the chances of misuse were minimal given better identification systems – though the opposition and civil society remained unconvinced.
Following the NEC’s announcement that it would print 9.4 million ballots for 7.9 million voters last week, nine NGOs – led by election monitors Comfrel and Nicfec – released a statement on Tuesday questioning the need for the high number of extra ballots, saying it was an additional cost of $330,000 and ran the risk of being misused.
The NEC’s decision would mean printing 20 percent more ballots than are strictly necessary, with NGOs pointing out most countries, on average, only produce an extra 2 to 5 percent.
On Wednesday, however, the NEC released a statement saying the move was necessitated by the prospect of torn ballots, printing errors and voters making mistakes while voting.
“NGOs and political parties will be deployed to observe the election at each polling station . . . so what can go wrong?” NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said, adding that polling officers will destroy the extra ballots an hour after voting is closed.
However, concerns have been raised in the past over election irregularities and accuracy of voter lists in spite of observers, especially in the wake of the 2013 national elections, the results of which were disputed by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. To end the CNRP’s yearlong boycott of parliament following the poll, both parties agreed to refashion the NEC as a bipartisan body with a neutral tie-breaker member.
But Wednesday’s NEC statement pointed to an election rule stipulating that each polling station have at least 50 extra ballots on hand, with the ballots themselves coming in sealed bundles of 50.
For example, the NEC said, for a polling station with 400 registered voters, the body would have to send eight bundles of 50 ballots, plus an additional bundle to account for any mishaps.
But if there were 401 voters, then nine bundles would have to be sent, along with one extra to ensure at least 50 spares were on hand. The quirk of arithmetic means some stations could have as many as 99 extras.
NGOs continued to maintain yesterday that the high number of ballots could be misused, but stopped short of pre-emptively claiming voting fraud.
Nicfec’s Sam Kuntheamy said observations from previous elections showed that instances of torn or misprinted ballots were very low and that NEC needed to rethink its decision.
“Yes, according to the procedures the NEC has to do that,” he said. “But we still want the NEC to reduce the number of extra ballots.”
While Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed any concerns over the extra ballots, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the development was worrying and regulations needed to be reviewed.
“We appeal to local and international observers and NGOs to observe the ballot process closely. We will also instruct CNRP officials and observers to be vigilant about this,” he said.
As the NEC prepares for the June 4 ballot, Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday also called on police, Military Police and the armed forces to crackdown on any individuals attempting to use “poisonous tricks” to obstruct the election process.
National Police Chief Neth Savoeun added that 33,527 police officers, 2,780 military police officers and 4,271 soldiers would be deployed during the commune elections, totalling around 51,500 security personnel.