Steps to Reduce Fraud
KABUL, Sept 12 - Accusations of widespread fraud and electoral mismanagement marred the conduct of Afghanistan’s Presidential and Provincial Council elections in September 2009. In advance of the upcoming elections for Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, what is the Independent Election Commission (IEC) doing to deter fraud in Afghanistan's first fully locally-led electoral process? Democracy International has identified a number of operational reforms undertaken by the IEC in its preparation for the upcoming vote, outlined in the video below.
The IEC has said it will institute new hiring practices that involved the blacklisting of some 6,000 employees based on allegations of misbehavior in last year's election. Additionally, the IEC has indicated that it will relocate Provincial Election Officers outside of their home provinces to provinces where they do not have strong ethnic or political connections, although the degree to which these personnel reforms have taken place has yet to be fully confirmed.
One major improvement this year has been increased coordination between the IEC and Afghan and international security services in their preparations for opening of polling centers. Because of the tenuous security situation in many districts around Afghanistan, the IEC relies heavily on security forces to set the list of polling centers they can secure on Election Day, which in 2009 was not finalized until two days before the vote took place.
This resulted in hurried allocation of voting materials to polling centers and serious challenges for independent actors wishing to organize election observation missions; the absence of security and rushed operations is believed to have facilitated a proliferation of “ghost” polling stations that contributed to many of last year's problems.
While the decision to close or not to close a polling center is not an uncontroversial one, this time around the list of polling centers was known well in advance of Election Day, and the IEC has stuck by its decision not to open additional centers that cannot be secured.
The IEC has additionally instituted tracking codes for ballot packages that should allow auditors to determine whether ballot returns from a polling center were in fact assigned to that area. It has also developed tamper-proofing measures for polling station-level counts that are meant to protect these sensitive materials during their transportation from the voting booth to the National Tally Center in Kabul. The integrity of this process will prove one of the major tests for anti-fraud measures in this election.
It is impossible to know before the vote takes place to what degree these measures will prove effective, and the fact that this election consists of multiple parallel races across the country's 34 provinces and for the national Kuchi community constituency means that detecting fraud will remain a challenge for election observers. These reforms are a welcome step forward, however, and the IEC appears far more committed to reducing the level of fraud in these elections than they were in 2009.