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.

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