Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Election Day: Notes

Polling station, Prey Veng province, polling day, about 10:00AM
The following are some notes from my experiences on election day, July 28. I was in Prey Veng province for election day, based out of Prey Veng city in the heart of the province. On election day I visited about 25 different polling stations, all but 3 located in the countryside outside the city (districts Ba Phnom, Kampong Leav, Preah Sdach, Kamchay Meas and Pea Rieng.) At several locations 2 or 3 polling stations were grouped closely together, usually in different classrooms in the same school building complex. I spent more time at some stations than others, but usually averaging only about 10 minutes each. I spent more than an hour at the opening station and 2 hours at the closing station (including counting.) These observations are those of only one individual and extremely limited in scope, and therefore should not be taken as representative or generalized to the overall election day environment. On a personal note: I have extensive technical election observation experience and a fairly good knowledge of Cambodian polling procedures.


Polling stations opened at 7:00AM.

I arrived at my first polling station at 6:30AM, a half hour before opening. It was part of a cluster of three stations located within 50 meters of each other in a pagoda/school complex located in the rural commune of Baray about 5kn from Prey Veng city. Polling staff were present at all of the stations and all stations had been set up before I arrived. There were also party observers and some non-party election observers at all three stations. There were no lines of voters at any of the stations, just a few people lingering around the registration lists check for their names. At the one station where I observed the pre-opening and opening procedures, the station chairman called all observers to inspect that the ballot box was empty before closing it and applying a ziplock seal which he again invited the observers to inspect. The first voter arrived alone, was a middle aged woman, used an ICE form as identification and voted seemingly without a hitch. Voters did not begin to arrive in numbers until about 7:15AM.

See 'Election Day: Morning' for more photos and notes.

Atmosphere and general observations

The weather was good – partially sunny, moderately warm, no rain. As the weather had been fair over the few days before the election, most roads, even in the deep countryside, were dry and passable.

I witnessed no serious tension or incidents. The atmosphere was light, but not quite the party-like atmosphere of previous Cambodian elections I have observed.

Unlike previous elections, there were polling staff stationed at the registration lists to assist people find their names.

There appeared to be many more young people (under 30) voting than I have seen at previous elections.

I ran across CEC officials at three different sites, inspecting the station operation and situation.

All election officials I met this day - CEC, PEC and polling station staff - were, at least to me, open and helpful, taking time to answer my questions and giving me as much access they could within the rules.

Irregularities, anomalies

I noticed many people using ICE forms for identification. I saw ICE forms being used in both the morning and afternoon. In most cases the people bearing ICE forms were young people. I asked 6 or 7 of the ICE form users why they were using the form instead of a regular ID. All but one said that they have only a family book as ID but there is only one family book for the whole family, yet there are several people of voting age in their family. So rather than pass the family book around between everybody, they got the ICE forms to have individual IDs for voting. The one with a different story said that he lost his ID on his frequent travels between Phnom Penh and Prey Veng. None of the people I spoke to told me how they voted, nor did I ask. But 3 of them spoke in terms of “change…giving power to the people…not being afraid to stand up,” vocabulary ordinarily associated with the opposition party .

I saw what appeared to be the village chief (perhaps two) linger near the polling station. In neither case was he disturbing or talking to voters, just watching.

I witnessed three instances of people who thought they were registered, expected to find their names on the registration list, but were unable to find their names and left without voting. All were disappointed, but none protested strongly.

I witnessed two instances of people being refused the right to vote for lack of proper identification. In both cases, the voter had only a photocopy of their ID.

I saw one instance of somebody being allowed to vote using only a photocopy ID.

I saw two instances of security being slightly within the exclusion perimeter, but it seemed to be largely due to trying to find shade fromthe hot sun.

On the day prior to election day I visited 10 polling station at four different sites. Polling staff and security were present at 3 of the stations. At all but one of the other sites the stations were locked and secure and security was present. At one site with two stations, the station was locked and secured, but neither the polling station staff nor security were present.


Turnout appeared to be light. Unlike my observations of the elections in 1998 and 2003 there were no lines at the polling stations I observed prior to opening. It took until 15 minutes after opening before lines began to form.  By early mid-morning some polling stations seemed to be moderately busy with a steady stream of voters coming though and lines of 20-30 people. Others were quite quiet, with no voters either inside or outside the station and the staff reporting less than 30% turnout at 10:30-11:00AM. At 11:00, one station chairman at a polling station in Prey Veng city said “If this were a business, we’d have to close for lack of customers." I asked the staff at a few stations why turnout was so low and they speculated that “they are farmers, they will come in the afternoon” and “they work in Phnom Penh and did not come back to vote.” After noon we visited at least a dozen more stations and every one was dead quiet with only the occasional voter coming though. The station I closed at the end of the day, which was also the first station I visited in the morning, reported approximately a 66% total turnout.

Unfolding/stacking ballots in preparation for counting. Note observers with green IDs and staff with yellow IDs.

Closing and counting

See 'Election day: Counting' for more photos and notes.

Polling stations closed at 3:00PM. Unlike previous elections, ballots were not packaged and transported to separate counting centers but were counted at the polling station immediately after voting closed. At 3:00PM when the polling station was closed, the ballot box was sealed and the polling station was converted into a counting station.

I visited the same station for closing as I attended for opening that morning in Baray commune about 5km from Prey Veng city. In addition to the polling staff there were 4 observers present – 3 party observers (CPP, CNRP and unidentified) and one non-party observer (unidentified organization.)

The station was closed promptly and ceremoniously at exactly 3:00PM. There were no voters in line. The chairman announced the closure, ordered the door closed and closed the slot on the ballot box herself. The chairman allowed me to observe the entire closing and counting process from within the station.

The station staff carried out the closing and counting with well-rehearsed precision, struggling a bit only with the proper packaging of the voter materials and paperwork after the counting process was complete. At that point they referred repeatedly to the manual to try to get it correct. Unlike previous elections, nobody seemed to have any problems identifying, applying or removing any of the ziplock seals.

The counting process was carried out efficiently and transparently. Per procedure, as the ballots were counted the chairman read the ballot, announced the party number loudly and held up each ballot individually so that observers could see the ballot. The party observers stood behind the chairman and appeared to watch the ballots carefully. I stood further away and was not able to read the ballots. It appeared to me that the chairman was counting rather quickly at time, but the observers were still given the opportunities to see each ballot and could object or ask to see the ballot again at any time. The observers did ask to see ballots a second time on 4 or 5 occasions, especially when a party other than 4 or 7 was called. The chairman and observers also stopped to discuss spoiled ballots 2 or 3 times, but all questions seemed to be resolved to the satisfaction of the observers.

Two counters ticked off the votes as they were counted – one sat immediately opposite the chairman ticking votes on an official form and another stood at the front of the counting station ticking votes on a large pre-prepared sheet of paper that all present could view easily.

At the end of the counting the chairman completed her paperwork,  prepared 1104 forms recording the results and provided 1104 forms to all of the observers and myself. The 1104 provided to me was complete except that the count was not totaled.

The chairman announced that the count was complete. Shortly thereafter the observers departed, but I remained and watch the rest of the process including the completion of the paperwork, the packaging of the paperwork and voter materials, the preparation of materials for transport to the CEC. I watched all of the materials secured to the back of a motorcycle. Motorcycles bearing the materials from the other two nearby stations arrived and the three waited for security escort. Within 5 minute two armed police with special election armbands arrived on motorcycle and escorted the group of three polling station motorcycles to the Commune Election Commission (CEC) collection point about 3 kilometers away. I followed the convoy to the CEC and watched them deliver their packages to the CEC.

The results at my station were:
Party 1 = 4
Party 2 = 32
Party 3 = 0
Party 4 (CPP) = 230
Party 5 = N/A
Party 6 = 4
Party 7 (CNRP) = 207
Party 8 = 3
Invalid ballots = 4

Though I wasn’t present at the counting at the two nearby stations, reportedly at one station the CPP beat the CNRP by 15 votes and at the other station CNRP beat the CPP by 7. A very close vote.

Completed Form 1104 from counting station I attended

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Election Day: Counting

The big board

The polling stations were open 7:00AM to 3:00PM. After closing they become counting stations where that ballots are tallied. Most of the polling stations I visited were busy in the morning and very slow in the afternoon. I stopped at several stations after lunch. All were quiet, with only the occasional voter wandering in.

At the end of the polling day I stopped at a station in Baray commune (Prey Veng), a rural area where the CPP ordinarily does well. The station was located in a school room near two other school room polling  stations. I asked the chairman of the station if I might photograph the counting process from outside through one of the windows. She smiled slyly and said "Do you want to make sure I do my job right?" I told her that I wasn't checking her work but found the process interesting and thought other people might be interested in seeing photographs of it. She eyed me in half belief and said, "OK, you come in," politely but formally escorting me to the observer's table inside the station.

The station closed promptly at 3:00PM with the chairperson ceremoniously announcing the end of voting, ordering the station door closed and shutting the ballot box slot herself. The station staff then began to prepare for the count - sealing the ballot box, converting the polling station into a counting station, re-opening the ballot box and readying the ballots, then beginning the count. Local people lingered in the windows and doorway for the duration, watching the proceedings. At one point the chairman ordered the windows shut to minimize disturbances from the outside, but the room became too dark, so the windows were opened again and local people returned to watching from outside.

Today's count, with 'number 4' (CPP) and 'number 7' (CNRP) running neck-and-neck the whole time, was riveting. The first ballot was a 4. And so were the next two. Then one 7, followed by a few more 4s. And just as I was beginning to think that the traditional wisdom about the election might hold, there were a series of 7s that put 7 and 4 back within a few votes of each other. And so it was for the rest of the count - always close but CNRP never quite catching up, or at least never for long. The only thing that broke the flow was the rare, jarring number of some other party. In the end, number 4 won, but not by much - 230 to 207. The two nearby polling stations were even closer, with 4 winning by 15 votes at one station and 7 winning by 7 votes at the other. A stunning result for a CPP commune.

The following photos are something of a technical look at the process of closing the polling station, readying to count, counting, recording the count and preparing it for transfer to the Commune Election Commission (CEC). 

Polling station during the day.

At 3PM the chaiman declared an end to voting, ordered the door closed, and shut the slot cover on the top of the ballot box.

 Taping formed to the top of the closed box.

The chairman completed and attached documents to the top of the box and and then puts a metal cap on the box.

Polling staff applies ziplocks to box.

Ballot box sealed. Party observers looking on. Note the green ID the observers wear. The polling staff where yellow IDs.(I saw party observers in every one of the more than two dozen stations polling stations I visited.)

The polling staff then rearranged the polling station into a counting station - moving tables, breaking down the equipment, securing the unused ballots and indelible ink, etc.

Two polling staff move the ballot box to the counting table and invite the observers to inspect the numbered ziplock seals.

Polling staff cut the numbered ziplock seals that had been applied just a few moments earlier at closing time. Observers look on.

Polling staff removes the final numbered ziplock seal that had been applied when the stationed opened in the morning.

The box top is removed and the ballots are dumped onto the counting table.

The ballot box set aside. The ballots sit unsorted on the counting table.

Unfolding and piling the ballots.

The ballots are unfolded and piled neatly in groups of 25. They are then counted and reconciled with the number of voters ticked off the registration and the number of leftover ballots.

The unused leftover ballots are rendered invalid by drive a spike through the bundle.

Counting. The chairman takes a ballot from the top of the pile, looks at it, reads the number aloud, and holds it up so that observers can see the ballot if they want. She then places the ballot in in the appropriate pile, sorted by party. Notice the observers behind and next to her. A couple calls were challenged by party observers, but were all resolved to everybody's agreement.

Counting. The process continues. Note the tallies being taking from the called numbers by two people. The guy in the blue is ticking off votes on an official form. The guy in the background is ticking off votes on the 'big board,' a hand drawn tally board that can be easily seen by all present in the counting station. Observers and staff look on very closely.

Counting. Showing the ballot. Note observers standing behind the chairman, watching the ballots as she called them

In the meantime, the staff disassemble and pack up the station equipment. This is a voter shield being packed up.

 Completing post counting paperwork.

The ballots

Still completing post counting paperwork.

Completed Form 1104 with count results, distributed to all observers present.

  Packing completed forms and materials into various envelopes.

 Packing envelopes, forms and voter materials including ballots into various envelopes and plastic bags for transfer to CEC.This part of the process (envelopes and bags) probably generated more staff discussion, restarts, minor debate and checking of the written procedures than any other single part of the process.

Consulting the manual again, trying to get all the various forms, ballots and other election materials into the correct envelope/bag.

At this polling station the ballots, documents and equipment were loaded onto motorcycles for transport to the Commune Election Commission (CEC). Two more more ballot laden motorcycles from the nearby polling station joined this one and they were all escorted by armed guards to the CEC a few kilometers away.

The final count on the big board.

Election Day, morning


Election day in Cambodia, Prey Veng province, July 28, 2013

Here’s a quick dump of a few photos from polling stations I visited this morning (before 11AM.) I visited about 17 polling stations at 8 different locations in Prey Veng province, most in the countryside outside the city.

Some stray notes:

I noticed that there are polling station staff assigned to assist people locate their names on the posted registration lists. There is a lot of lingering at the registration lists as people search for their names.

Have seen a lot of ICE forms being used as ID, especially at polling stations in the countryside away from the city. Most, but not all, were young people. I spoke to 6 or 7 ICE form holders about it. All but one said that they have only a family book as ID but there is only one family book for the whole family, yet there are several people of voting age in their family. So rather than pass the family book around between everybody, they got the ICE forms to have individual IDs for voting.

As of 11AM more than half of the polling stations I have visited have had around 30% turnout. Most of these stations have been in the countryside and the polling staff speculates that the farmers are working in the fields in the morning and may come to vote in the afternoon.

I have seen multiple party observers at every polling station and non-party observers (COMFREL, Transparency International, unidentified non-party) at about 70% of the visited stations.

One observer told me that as soon as he voted he rushed straight home to try to wash off the ink using techniques he read about on Facebook yesterday. Displaying his still stained finger he said, “It didn’t work.”

Polling station staff sealing the ballot box before polling opens.

People searching for their names on posted registration lists outside the polling station.

Countryside polling station in school building. Late morning, very few voters.

Showing ID and recieving ballot.


Getting inked.

Domestic observers.

This lady stopped me and insisted I take her photo, saying "I am old and I cannot do anything, but I can do this."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Election Eve: Polling Station

Voter instructions posted outside the polling station.

Today was a quiet day in Prey Veng. White day. The day after the end of the campaign and the day before election day. Some businesses in town were closed today and some others closed earlier than usual. The traffic was heavy on some of the main roads as people returned to the province and to the districts to vote tomorrow.

I stopped by 10 or 12 polling stations this afternoon. The polling station staff was at some stations, finishing last minute preparations and setting up the various voting equipment. At other, the work apparently complete, the polling staff had gone home, leaving the doors locked and the requisite guards outside the station. (Though I found one station completely unmanned, set up. staff gone, no guard.) At about half the stations I visited there were a few people lingering over the voter registration lists posted outside each station, checking for their name or the names of relatives. 

Voter checking registrations lists posted outside polling station for her name.

Registration lists.

Polling station at pagoda school building.

Polling station interior. Clerks on far side to check ID/name and give ballot. Voting shields in middle. Ballot box (still unassembled in cardboard storage box) and indelible ink on left. Chairman's desk at head of room.

Polling station interior.

Behind voting shield.

The infamous indelible ink.

Instructions posted outside polling station.