Well, this is what happens when one leaves a blog alone for 2 years. You find a post written but never posted on Aceh’s 2012 gubernatorial election. I think I was waiting to try and find photos before posting. In any case, since it was a public holiday on election day, my boss decided to have us go around and be informal election “monitors” at various polling stations in and around Banda Aceh. It was really interesting to see what observations should be made to determine fair and transparent elections, and if it seems like your cup of tea please continue. For some context please jump a little further back in time to this earlier post on the crazy tensions before the elections.

Monday, 9 April 2012

multiple voting areas within one station.

bring voter registration letter, but no need to show ID. Is this because the village is so small that everyone knows one another?

Blue ink on pinky finger to show voted. However, one monitor noted women were reluctant to put whole finger in to stain the nail, but it is easy to wipe off if just on skin. There was no checking of fingers either when handing in voter registration letter.

Some people who did not have letters or IDs were still able to get checked off the list.

Process: arrive, hand in registration letter that got send by the Geucik (village head), wait in outside waiting area for name to be called, name called and have name crossed off registration list, wait in an inside waiting area, receive ballots, go to a table with partitions on it making at least 3 polling “booths” (most booths did not have any cover on the entrance for privacy), stick a nail through the candidate you liked for Bupati/Mayor and for Governor, put ballots in their respective padlocked (but not sealed) ballot box, get ink on finger.

Some discussion in the evening on whether it was worrisome that ballot box padlocks weren’t sealed during the vote. Some saw that it was more important to seal the locks at night while being stored at the Camat’s (sub-district head) office, because during the day there are so many eyes that the chances of tampering with the locks are very small. However, everyone was very open about who had the key – it was always a police officer.

Each party was able to bring at least two election observers. In some neighborhoods it was a method of informally getting an exit poll, because the observers would already know someone’s political affiliation in the village and be able to count their vote as they came and left. The monitors noted that every site they went to there was always a Partai Aceh (PA) observer, most often two. There wasn’t always an Irwandi observer, and it is predicted this was due to intimidation.

At many polling stations observed there were groups of men hanging around the polling booths for no good reason. Although they did not seem to outright be intimidating people, it was curious as to why they were there.

The polls were staffed with local volunteers of the Independent Election Commission (KIP). One requirement was they had to be politically neutral, but they still were able to vote.

There was nearly 100% turnout in most places visited. A lot of the polling places only had 60-100 people on their registration based upon the size of the village. The polls were open from 8-2pm, but by the time 11am came around many of the people had already voted. In one place they only had two people not come to vote, and they closed the polls early, because they knew those two people were in hospital.

Mobile polling station. KIP volunteers went from home-to-home to make sure the sick and elderly were able to vote. This is good in theory to get maximum participation, but transparency and accountability drop sharply.

One monitor pointed out that elderly that arrived to polling station might have been assisted too much within the polling booth, but no way to know. Otherwise all very respectful and facilitating. Made one recommendation to provide a variety of reading glasses at each polling place; had done that in a previous election monitor and it made a whole world of difference in terms of empowering the elderly to actually see their ballot.

Each polling place had at least two police and security. No incidence reported though; only some incidents the day before with intimidation.

After lunch traveled to Lhong in Aceh Besar sub-district, but near the mountains so a PA stronghold. It was generally thought that communities near the mountains are PA supporters, because during the conflict the PA hid in the mountains. There were two polling places near each other. Went to the larger one (perhaps 200 people) to see the count. The KIP volunteers opened the ballot box with the key from the police. There were official large sheets to tally the votes that would get sent to the Camat’s office along with the sealed ballot boxes. The tallied votes were cross-checked by tallies kept by the party observers and the police. Very transparent process. Anyone could come in and watch the votes being counted. One person takes out ballots and unfolds them. Another holds it up to the light and calls out the number of who was voted for. Each candidate has a number associated with them. The voter can punch a hole with a ten-penny nail anywhere within the square that has the candidates picture and number.

Ballots that had more than one candidate punched for were tallied as “Invalid.” The observers were quite active in ensuring that the votes were counted correctly. If the person calling out the numbers missed that there were two punched, they spoke up quickly, etc.

When votes were finished counting the box was shook out and showed to the crowd to be empty. Polling stations were all very open spaces, which made for an unexpected level of transparency. The only party that was able to get a comprehensive early voting score was PA, because they had people EVERYWHERE. Ended up talking to someone who turned out to be the head of GAM in the area, and he had people in all 26 polling stations in his little area report in the scores as soon as they were counted.

Guess who won – PA.