Preparing an Election

By Benjamin Nuland and Julian Dierkes

Leading up to the election on June 28th, 2024, we traveled as international election observers through Arkhangai, Khuvsgul, Bulgan and Orkhon aimags to observe the preparations for the election and the election campaign. We were impressed that despite the procedural complexities of this year’s election, public servants throughout the country were well prepared with proper machinery and training to ensure that the electoral process went smoothly. They were also genuine in their dedication and diligence in these preparations.


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There was a nationwide test of election procedure on June 24th, testing various forms of machinery, including fingerprint scanning and 3,300 ballot-receiving machines. The staff who ran these tests were mainly women who are public servants like teachers or local administration officials, with extensive election-monitoring experience. If 10 staff in each of the 2,198 polling stations participated in the testing (as seemed about typical, including an IT officer and the 9-person election commission) that suggest that approximately 220,000 people were participating, about 1% of Mongolia’s total eligible voter population (2.2 million). Yes, five days before the election 1% of the voting population ran a test of voting procedures!

The testing included a powering up of all devices (registration laptop, fingerprint and biometric ID scanner, as well as receipt printer; election machine with all accompanying electronics and communications equipment, back-up generator, GEC camera) and sample submission of ballots and communication of results.

It seems that different Aimags ran their testing somewhat differently, possibly due to different delivery schedules of equipment, ballots, etc.; while Arkhangai ran tests in polling stations with all equipment and supplies delivered, testing in Khuvsgul seems to have been done centrally in soums before the equipment was distributed to polling stations. While testing centrally might cause concern over the machine’s functional ability on local internet connection, it didn’t seem to be too big of a problem during the election, as all electronic results were still successfully sent to the soum centres.


Mongolians often express doubts about election results, yet prosecutions for fraud are rare. The response to these allegations has been the deployment of technology designed to safeguard electoral processes and that has continued in this election. Julian has speculated about the likelihood of electoral fraud during the 2017 presidential election.

Machinery like fingerprint scanning machines, CCTV cameras, and a movable TV to display data and voter ID all continued from previous elections, though the display of voting statistics and an image of the inside of the polling station in the area outside of the station has been abandoned. Although there was some talk about the government sending over new generation voting machines for this election, it seems that the newer ballot machines resemble the same ballot machines from previous elections. In fact, even some of the old ballot machines were distributed with the new.  Although we were initially told that the new generation of voting machines included cameras to record an image of the voter, this seemed to be a misunderstanding.

The innovation in this election was the deployment of Starlink connections, set up in over 400 bag locations. This enabled polling stations with no cell service to electronically transmit results quickly after the closing of polling stations. The greatest difficulty in bringing Starlink to these rural stations was in entering necessary precise coordinates for stations. Once the coordinates were set up, however, this mechanism seemed to work well, as there were no report delays when it came to submitting election electronic results.

Beyond the administration of elections, Starlink also seems to have been a tool for (well-funded) candidates. Installed on the roof of candidate’s cars, Starlink allowed big parties such as the DPP or MPP — who had the resources to afford it — to reach targeted rural voters on social media as they traveled in between rural areas, notifying any rural voter of any last minute rally coming up.

For every polling station, there was a backup plan in case any technical issue arose. Most stations had a backup generator or large batteries for voting machines in case of power outages, and an IT member of staff on standby to fix any technical issues. And although this might seem unnecessary at first glance, it must be said that they were extremely useful during the election, as in two rural voting stations we visited, power did go out, but the electoral process did not stall.


The staff had gone through extensive training and knew their 2024 election manual well. In many polling stations, the 9-member election Stab was either predominantly or entirely female. Each staff member was assigned a task to their subsequent stations: A person sent by the statistical office was in charge of the registration and ID station, 3-4 women were in charge of issuing ballots, and a person was in charge of marking fingernails with an ink pen at the exit to ensure no double voting could occur. Knowing that the equipment can be difficult to operate, a person was specifically delegated to aid voters in inserting ballots into the counting machine. Lastly two people were staff on standby in case of technical issues or elderly voters or voters with disabilities needed assistance.


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What was most impressive was the professionalism of the election commissions. When we asked whether they would support a youth or new candidate, the staff was strongly impartial, and believed any position they shared would jeopardize the election process.

The safeguarding of locations and equipment also requires a major staffing effort. Polling stations are under 24h police guard from when materials are delivered. In one polling station that meant that the just-out-of-the-police-academy officer and had stayed at the polling station for the three days prior.


Similar to the last election, the government had provided accessories to various disabled and elderly voters, including lights, magnifying glasses, wheelie chairs, plastic mats to hold down ballots. It must be said that although voting stations did have accessibility aids, not all of them were uniformly provided for every polling station. For example, some voting stations had lights and magnifying glasses, while others had magnifying glasses and wheelchairs. Furthermore, on election day it seemed that few users made use of the magnifying glasses, those with difficulties seeing/reading being perhaps more accustomed to reading glasses. What was constant however was the presence of back-up staff to aid those in need to vote.

The GEC also promoted accessories to support the ‘no-phone policy’ at the polling station. This has always been intended as a mechanisms by which bribed voters could give proof of a vote cast to a briber. Polling stations set up phone baskets by voting booths for voters to deposit their phones. But while these phone baskets were at every voting station, they were not used consistently.

The greatest dedication to creating voter accessibility was the election staff’s commitment to attain the ballots of every immobile (hospitalized, infirm) voter. Policies were set in place for the first time in a couple of elections that allowed Mongolian expatriates to vote from their respective embassies or consulates from June 20th to the 23rd. For attaining mobile votes by elderly or infirm voters teams of mobile ballot collectors, consisting of electoral staff and party observers, travel to these voters. We were told in one bag voting station that they travelled 160 km to collect 6 votes, bringing with them all the necessary accessibility equipment and party observers to do so. Apparently, this was also a practice during state socialist times.

It must also be said that bad weather, including rain and thunderstorms, posed a great difficulty in traversing these lands to reach those voters in this election. But nevertheless, by Election Day the staff was able to collect all the mobile ballots of those who registered to do so. Even though missing out on such ballots due to logistical difficulty wouldn’t significantly change the results of the election, the electoral staff still commits itself to cover great distances to secure every vote.

Dedication to Democracy

The dedication of election personnel to ensuring a smooth election was impressive and, in some areas, inspiring given the infrastructural, procedural and geographic challenges that this effort faces. If Mongolian voters have little confidence in political parties and the parliament, or if there are concerns about democratic backsliding, this is likely not due to the on-the-ground process of voting.

About Benjamin Nuland

Benjamin Nuland is a Jack Hachigian Scholar at Yale University currently studying history and international relations. Recently completing the Directed Studies Program, he’s received the Topol Silliman Grant and the Summer Experience Award to study in Mongolia the summer under the guidance of Professor Arne Westad and Professor Julian Dierkes.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots
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