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

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