Election Fraud Concerns Switch to Vote-Counting Centers

As polling came to a close Sun­day, attention shifted to the counting process and fears that fraud could thwart the will of the voters.

National electoral watchdogs said they plan to shift many of their polling station observers to about 1,500 commune counting centers for to­day’s tallying.

“That’s the big worry—the counting,” said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel).

“Today, my neighbor told me she voted already but I should be sure that the counting has integrity,” he said. “We will try to ob­serve the counting closely.”

Observers for Comfrel and its sister organization, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Coffel), are keeping watch over the sealed ballot boxes: sleeping with them in either the counting center or the polling station and witnessing the counting in the morning, Koul Panha said.

Comfrel will shift all of its 11,000 observers to the counting centers today. Coffel President Meng Ho Leang said Sunday  about 1,000 of the group’s 6,000 observers will monitor the counting.

That is enough to have 10 in each counting center, plus party representatives and international observers. That many is necessary, Koul Panha said, because each center will have several ta­bles for countings.

Actual counting cannot start un­­til all ballot boxes have ar­rived—remote polling stations will have kept them overnight to avoid moving them after dark—and the number of ballots “reconciled” to the number of voters checked off on the registration list.

Ballot boxes from at least three stations will be mixed to reduce the chance of village officials knowing how a particular polling station voted. Then, the counting will begin.

During counting, a commune election commission official is to pull out a ballot, read the party marked, mark the tally sheet, turn the ballot around, and display it to observers who re­cord it. The official then puts the ballot in a pile designated for that party.

After all the ballots in one pile are counted, the observers and election official are to compare notes. If they don’t agree, each party’s piles will be recounted.

When all tables are finished with the counting, the results are tallied and commune election officials, observers and party agents sign the result sheet, which is sent to the provincial election commission with all the ballots.

At the provincial commissions, the ballots are rechecked against the result sheet, the entire pro­vince’s results are consolidated and the seats won by each party determined. Those results are then shipped to the National Election Committee—again, along with the ballots—for final checking.

The process is expected to be completed Saturday, although the NEC has said partial results from commune counting centers may be released by Monday night.

Some have expressed fear tht the results of the closely watched commune count might be tampered with at the provincial level—especially if the results go against the CPP.

For this reason, Comfrel asked the NEC to allow its ob­servers to photocopy the results sheet from the commune counting center so they can do a parallel provincial consolidation and count.

NEC Information Officer Leng Sochea said Sunday photocopying was out of the question, but added that observers are welcome to write down the results.

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