Around 70,000 election observers will monitor the voting and counting of ballots at today’s local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), international observers and representatives of civil society will make up 10 percent of the observers, while representatives of political parties running in the elections will make up the rest.
The task of observers is to monitor the election process and record all improprieties they notice in the electoral boards’ minutes. According to the President of the Central Election Commission in BiH, Ahmet Šantić, they should remain at the polling stations after closure, but should not later report about irregularities that they had not recorded into the minutes at the time. Such reports after the fact will not be considered.
The current electoral system in BiH is vulnerable to fraud. Vehid Šehić, a representative of an election watch dog “Pod Lupom” told CIN earlier that spoiling ballots during the count by adding another mark to the paper was one of the most widespread improprieties. Along with this, “the voters’ decision can be tampered with on open lists, by favouring certain people within one list, or one political option by putting a cross next to the party favourites”, said Šehić.
He also said that there was a so-called “Bulgarian train” where individuals show up at polling stations to cast an already filled out form, for a fee, while taking home an empty paper. Another common type of electoral fraud is to fill out the voting forms of those who did not turn up to vote.
Municipal Election Commissions Are Weak Links
Šehić warned that municipal election commissions are the weak links in the election process. The commissions are made up of members of different political parties who oversee the elections, manage the polling stations and are responsible for ensuring that the vote is conducted fairly and anonymously, whilst recording the voting results at each polling station. According to the BiH Electoral Law, only one member of a political entity can participate in the work of each election commission. They are chosen by sortition and are appointed by a municipal election commission.
Šehić warned that political parties sometimes trade in electoral observers. For example, a party may have supporters in locations that it did not care for and would swap allotted positions for observers in these locations, with other parties, for observer positions in other locations.
“Some political parties found 10 or 12 people or five people and told them: ‘You will run as independent candidates and we’ll cover your costs and pay back your fees for a place in the election boards, while in fact, this place will be filled by party members,” said Šehić.
He said that an evidence of such abuse is the fact that some independent candidates did not win a single vote, i.e., they did not vote even for themselves.
Maksida Pirić of the CEC said that they were tipped off that such things happened. “This means nothing to us. A person followed up the legal procedure by submitting a statement. His choice was to be a member of an election commission on behalf of one party even if he were a president of another.”
The Central Election Commission’s annual reports states that improprieties in the work of election commissions – during ballot casting and counting of votes – were recorded during every election and are on the rise.
For example, during the last elections in 2014, improprieties were detected in the work of election commissions at 94 polling stations and were related to: irregularities during the recording of winning votes; mis-recording of the number of winning votes; misreporting of the spoilt votes, etc.
During this period, the CEC issued 321 decisions in which it fined members of election commissions – with fines ranging from 200 KM to 500 KM – and banned them from taking part in the work of election commissions for a period of four years from the time when a decision became effective. According to CEC records, the presidents, members and deputy members of election commissions mainly protested the amounts of each fine, but not the bans themselves. In their defence, they would point out that they had made an error on a technicality, by accident or out of ignorance, because they were physically tired or due to lack of concentration.
Šehić said that election fraud couldn’t be solved by punishing individuals but by punishing the real “peddlers”, that is, the parties. “I think that the Election Commission should have made election changes a long time ago with regard to voting procedures and the appointment of election commissions. Something had to be done to prevent the trade in polling station representation and the changes of the entities’ polling stations”.
The Election Law in BiH gives the CEC authority to declare voting invalid in a constituency or at a polling station if it is established that improprieties have occurred during voting or the counting of ballot papers, if they can affect the outcome of elections. Also, it can issue fines that cannot be more than 10,000 KM, remove the names of nominees from the list of nominees, or cancel declarations of political entitys.
30,445 candidates for 3,277 offices
CEC’s president Šantić said that this year has seen the greatest number of registered entities compared to the previous elections, which he thought was a sign of the citizens’ interest in participating in the political process. The elections will feature 451 political entities (102 political parties; 103 coalitions; 171 independent candidates; 17 lists of independent candidates; 52 independent candidates on behalf of 52 groups of citizens and 6 independent candidates on behalf of 6 civic associations) – 30,445 candidates in all.
The citizens will vote in office 3,277 persons: 131 heads of municipalities and 10 mayors and 3,136 councillors. The master electoral register features 3,263,906 voters, eligible to vote with an ID between 7 and 19 hours at one out of 5,469 polling stations.