Election rigging and preventative practices
By Gray Kalindekafe:
Vote rigging is one dimension of election irregularities. In its narrower aspects, vote rigging points to irregularities in the polling, counting, tallying and announcement of election results. Generally, it includes fraud by multiple voting, voting by underage persons, adding ballots marked by persons who are not voting legally, exclusion of valid ballots by counting officials, denying marginalised voters the right to vote, falsification of results sheet or deliberate fraud in tabulating results.
Intimidation, attacks on voters, false closure of or information about polling centres etc., is not covered. In this context, vote rigging may also encompass various forms of mischief, such as ballot stuffing, snatching ballot boxes, impersonation (voting in deceased persons’ names), under-age voting, denying marginalised voters the right to vote, tampering with the uncounted ballots and so forth.
The most notorious strategy for introducing biases into the electoral system through boundary delimitation is often referred to as gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the careful use of districting to maximise a party’s electoral performance.
Gerrymandering is sometimes sub-classified and distinguished between ‘stacked gerrymandering’, where constituencies are drawn so that the opposing party wins a small number of constituencies with a large majority in each one, and ‘cracked gerrymandering’, where a party’s purpose is to design constituencies so that it can win narrow majorities in a high number of constituencies.
One of the forms of electoral fraud is gerrymandering and this is defined as the practice of setting boundaries of electoral districts to favour specific political interests within legislative bodies, often resulting in districts with convoluted, winding boundaries rather than compact areas.
The primary goals of gerrymandering are to maximise the effect of supporters’ votes and to minimise the effect of opponents’ votes. … By ‘cracking’ districts, a political party would be able to maintain, or gain, legislative control by ensuring that the opposing party’s voters are not the majority in specific districts.
Malawi has not had any major delimitation of parliamentary constituency boundaries since 1998. Consequently, inequality in parliamentary representation has been constantly on the rise. In the 2014 elections, the average constituencies in the city of Lilongwe had close to 72,000 registered voters, compared to the national average of approximately 39,000. As a result, the parliamentary vote of a voter residing in the city of Lilongwe was worth about half of that of a voter in the average-sized Malawian constituency.
Such wide discrepancies clearly violate the principle of “one person one vote.” Unfair demarcation of wards and constituencies where you create more wards or constituencies in areas or regions where you have more support than in your opponent’s regions, this could be more prominent in countries which vote on regional or tribal or racial lines.
Malawi’s Constitution in Section 76(2)(b) states that any review of constituencies should take place at an interval of not more than five years and once Malawi Electoral Commission has reviewed and determined the constituency boundaries, its recommendations should forward to Parliament for confirmation.
In doing demarcation the considerations are on, among other things, population density, ease of communication, geographical features and existing administrative areas. For the wards, factors considered include population density, geographical features and ease of communication and the commission is supposed to ensure that ward boundaries do not cross local authority jurisdictions. The last constituency re-demarcation exercise was done in 1998 which considered only those constituencies that were very large.
The modern concept of combating election irregularities, including rigging of voting, is to prevent irregularities taking place at all. Thus, there is a strong onus on election management bodies to introduce mechanisms which can be used as tools to undertake continuous monitoring of each electoral preparatory process. By this new emphasis on prevention of irregularities, particularly voting rigging, democratic elections, especially in emerging democracies, can be successfully combated and reduced to the irreducible minimum. It can be done, but a new conscious approach to the prevention of irregularities has to be developed by election management bodies.
Vote rigging can occur at any stage of the electoral cycle.
In the pre-electoral stage, some governments interfere with the planning process by deliberately underfunding activities like staff training and civil voter education that leads to a level playing field. Incumbent governments may interfere with the voter registration process by deliberately failing to fund it on time and/or by interfering with the procurement of appropriate systems.
The election period is where the most visible vote rigging takes place. During the vote, these include: impersonation, multiple voting, deliberate shortage of materials, closure before time, etc. When calculating the vote: tally sheets are adulated, others are swapped, or excluded from the final tally by voiding good ballots on improper grounds.
If the result of one polling station is significantly different from the others in the same polling centre and if voters were assigned randomly to polling queues, this may indicate fraud in the different one. Counting officials may alone or under pressure of agents, void good ballots on improper grounds, such as a small accidental mark or a tick not fully in the box.
Training must ensure that counting staff resist pressure from agents and that minor technical errors in a case where the voter’s intent is still clear does not invalidate a ballot. The results sheet (tally sheet) may be altered or falsified. This can be prevented if the counting station head, in presence of the team, places a strip of clear adhesive tape over the total’s column as soon as the sheet is completed.
False addition in the tabulation centre is prevented by having all tabulations done separately by two entry clerks, neither knowing who the other is. The most visible vote rigging takes place during the election period, when candidate nomination is stringent or restrictive, access to the official media is partisan, political financing is skewed in favour of the incumbent who also in many cases misappropriate government funds to support their personal or political campaigns.
Impartial election administrators may allocate more polling stations in some areas than others, making polling more accessible in some areas than in others. Government-instigated violence on election day may prevent some legitimate voters from reaching the polling site.
At the polling venue, acts of vote rigging could be endless. These include impersonation, multiple voting, deliberate shortage of materials, closure before time, etc. Although many election administrations now count ballots at the polling station, the candidate and the public have no way of verifying that the results declared at the polling station is what is declared by the election commission.
Tally sheets are adulated, other are swapped, or excluded from the final tally. Many election administrations have no mechanisms for resolving election disputes that arise on election day, commonly, many voters fail to find their names on the register, or do not vote due to shortage of materials. In the post-electoral period, parliaments deliberately do not pass the necessary reforms, lessons learned and corrections in boundaries and on the registers are deliberately ignored or delayed until the last minute or not done at all.
General suggestions for reducing rigging
The best way to prevent all forms of rigging, either at the polling station, during the count, or during aggregation, is to enhance transparency. That may require legal or procedural reform, and can also require comprehensive deployment of non-partisan observers, or effective party monitoring.
Have election management bodies that introduce mechanisms, which can be used as tools to undertake continuous monitoring of each electoral preparatory process. Follow a design which provides conditions that facilitate and prevent fraud. Political good will be the key factor.
Adequate funding, accurate voter registers, level playing field, appropriate legal frameworks and many other required solutions are possible if there is political will on the part of the incumbent and opposition parties.
Nonetheless a competent election management body and an appropriate legal framework are equally necessary. In the end, every stakeholder must play its mandated role efficiently and effectively, without favour or fear: the media, the Judiciary and civil society and security forces.
Recommendations of specific techniques that can be used
m Have a good VR system and a strict, well-trained and observed VR process.
m Biometrics can identify multiple applicants.
m Be aware of some signs of ballot rigging that include suspicious fold marks, ballots with marks apparently made repeatedly by the same hand, ballots that lie flat and piled within the box and the number of ballots in the box exceeds the number of ballots issued.
m A polling station having significantly more ballots than others in the same centre
m Altered tally sheets can be prevented if the counting station head, in presence of the team, places a strip of clear adhesive tape over the total’s column as soon as the sheet is completed.
m Tabulations should be done separately by two entry clerks, neither knowing who the other is.
m Good training of staff and the exclusion of the candidate’s families is essential
m Public information should state that fraud will be detected and those responsible punished.
m Allow Political parties to have minimum two agents at each station.
m Provide complaint forms which agents can fill to challenge the process.
m Let polling station chairperson sign, announce and post results in the polling station entrance for transparency, public audit and future references.
m Set up tracking mechanisms to reconcile forms from stations and final national tally figures.
m Ballot boxes must be tracked during transporting from one point to another.
m Make sure that ballot papers have security features and serial numbers.
m Vote counting must be done at the same place of voting, immediately after voting.
m The tally sheet must be signed by all stakeholders and political party delegates must each have a copy of the election outcome.
m Security must be present at all times in polling stations.
Audit Results before declaration
Empower the public to watch the process, by providing guidance and encouraging voters to photo polling station results and send those to a central location for aggregation.
What Malawi can do to minimise election fraud
One way of preventing vote rigging is firstly through setting up of parallel vote tabulations (PVT) to cross-check results from Mec and, secondly, ensure contesting parties who have a high regard for the rules of the election ‘game’ – are well-organised to observe the electoral environment and to respond appropriately to breeches of the electoral code of conduct.
Thirdly, ensure an election management environment which includes key role players who have a track record of high integrity that draws confidence in their ability to maintain the integrity of the electoral process. Then ensure also that electoral integrity must be prominent in the legal framework, parliamentary oversight and electoral management body.
Another important factor is having an organised civil society that acts independently, but in partnership with the above role players as observers and monitors to the whole electoral process. The last but one factor is the need for international partners on all levels supporting the process in a manner that makes for both robust comment on less-than-ideal practices, as well as giving due acknowledgement to progress made on the internal historical electoral development trajectory. Finally, and not least all of the above need to be underscored and anchored by an active, engaged, informed and robust citizenry.
Multiple voting and underage voting can be minimised by a good VR system and a strict, well-trained and observed VR process. Biometrics can identify multiple applicants and is surprisingly effective in showing up those who appear to be clearly too young to be 18.
However, in Malawi voting of underage has been a trend ever since our first election in 1994 , this was propelled by the fact that most of our children and youth were not documented in terms of having valid IDs hence they were identified by chiefs or somebody who already registered hence without any authentic evidence of age.
They generally used other traditional indicators of adulthood such as being married having a child or having beard. These non-conventional systems of declaring age led to registration of a lot of underage children and compromised the credibility of the voter roll and consequently the entire electoral process.
This problem might not completely be eradicated even if a biometric voter registration system has been introduced and also even if the national ID has been introduced, unscrupulous political party agents bet of rigging at all cost already interfere with the national ID process by ensuring the under-aged over-declare their age to be either 18 or above hence with confirmation from a traditional leader or a community leader or somebody who has already registered, mostly could be political party sell-outs or zealots who orchestrate such manoeuvres and consequently registering under-aged children in large numbers .
Contrary to popular belief, rigging usually does not take place at the polling station. It is most common in aggregation, where it requires only changing numbers on a form. The best way to prevent all forms of rigging, either at the polling station, during the count, or during aggregation, is to enhance transparency.
That may require legal or procedural reform and can also require comprehensive deployment of non-partisan observers, or effective party monitoring. If the count occurs at the polling station, results can be collected and separately aggregated in a parallel voter tabulation, which will prevent, or at least reveal, malpractices in aggregation.
If comprehensive observation is not available, consider empowering the public to watch the process, by providing guidance and encouraging voters to photo polling station results and send those to a central location for aggregation. To mitigate against rigging, political goodwill is the key factor.
The author is writing in his own capacity as a governance, elections, human rights and civic education specialist
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