The biggest difference will be the presence of accredited domestic election observers and the shift from paper ballots to electronic voting machines.
This year’s election law introduce the status of domestic election observers who are nominated by civil society organizations. I have heard some discussions that there will be numerous observers of this kind which is wonderful. Their observations will hopefully not only contribute to a fair election, but will also dispel some of the nearly constant talk of election fraud that has marred previous elections and underlines confidence in democracy.
Party observers will still play an important role in election observation, but I suspect that many Mongolians themselves will see them as fulfilling a role of enforcers, rather than as independent reporters on procedures. Also, party observers are exclusively focused on the proceedings in the polling station itself as opposed to observers who can also try to survey the immediate neighbourhood of a polling station.
Inside the polling station, the focus of my observation will clearly be on the registration procedures. This will probably be the greatest source of irregularities and one of the areas that allegations of fraud have focused on in the past with claims of multiple registrations by individuals, etc.
For voters who have recently moved, re-registered, or lost their identification papers, they will come to the polls with a new smart-ID that includes biometric information and can be read in the polling station. The majority of voters, however, will come with paper identification and voter registration documents. These will then be checked against voter registration lists. Some problems will surely arise from voters who claim to have moved into an electoral riding, but do not appear on the voter rolls.
Where there have been allegations of multiple voting in the past, they have focused on re-registrations in different electoral ridings which is presumed to be possible as the polling station registration does not have access to any central database of voters. However, in the last election, voters’ pinkies were marked with indelible ink (it sure did not wash off my finger for several days) and hands were therefore checked at registration. Today, identification papers of voters will be marked after they vote. Also, note that the election commissions running local polling stations do not include party members this time, at least nominally, so that the registration process will hopefully be more transparent and less partial.
When it comes to allegations of past fraud, the DP has been loudest in their allegations. However, when I have pressed party officials after previous elections and in the last several days, allegations always remain just that, allegations, and there is very little concrete evidence that is provided. I personally find this extremely harmful to the development of a democratic consciousness and trust in public institutions. When irregularities or fraud occur, that needs to be noted immediately, but perhaps more importantly it needs to be documented.
In this election, the General Election Commission is apparently offering to refund any voter who is offered a bribe or payment for their vote the amount of this payment and will then charge the candidate who has offered the original payment. This is meant to encourage voters who find themselves in difficult economic circumstances to report fraud, though it is unclear to me, how a voter might demonstrate that s/he has been offered a payment.
Interestingly, party official at higher levels of the DP appear to be very concerned about election fraud and the “system” that the MPP runs in the countryside, while local party officials in baks and sums are much less concerned pointing out that they know all the voters in their riding and that fraudulent re-registrations are thus nearly impossible. Their knowledge of local voters also means that they have a good sense of how the voting will go and therefore would notice surprising results clearly.
The introduction of electronic voting machines will mean that these machines (one per balloting station) will produce a count of the votes immediately following the last voter. Apparently (today’s observations will confirm this) they machines will print out a report of the voting which can then be delivered (by phone) to central election authorities. Party observers in the polling stations will be privy to this count as well and will thus be able to report back to party headquarters. It is this speedy counting that leads many to expect results as quickly as 45 min after the closing of the polls.
In case there are any doubts about the counting, the voting machines also retain the original paper ballots inserted so that a manual re-count is possible. The extensive voter education has suggested that the machines are quite easy to use, though local officials have voiced concerns about seniors’ ability to fill in the bubbles of the ballot correctly. It appears that two polling stations within each of the 26 electoral ridings will be randomly selected for a manual recount and that this recount can be observed. However, there is no obvious indication how one might find out which ballot stations have been selected for this manual recount.
Of course, the voting machines will also represent something of a (literally) black box to voters and it remains to be seen to what extent voters will trust a counting mechanism that neither they, nor anyone else can observe directly.
With all of these considerations, my focus of observation today will be the registration process.