Monday, 16 November 2009

Elections - How Serious Was Vote Tampering?

By Paul Favet

When, on Wednesday, the President of the National Elections Commission (CNE), Joao Leopoldo da Costa, announced the results of the Mozambican general elections held on 28 October, he admitted that serious malpractice had occurred.

This took the form of corrupt polling station staff deliberately adding marks to ballot papers, thus turning valid votes into invalid ones. The electoral law states that any vote with marks beside the name of more than one candidate is invalid.

So unscrupulous staff take votes cast for a candidate they don't like and stick an inky fingerprint, or a blob of ink against another name. Costa attributed this to "lack of civic education or bad faith by some interested parties of people involved in the electoral process".

This is putting it very gently. How can "lack of civic education" possibly be involved? All people present at the count - the staff, the political party monitors, and any observers or journalists know perfectly well that tampering with votes is a crime.

The polling station manual, used as a basis for the training of staff, states that "distorting, replacing, suppressing, stealing, destroying, or altering electoral registers, ballot papers, polling station minutes, results sheets or any other electoral material or documents" is a crime.

The manual also warned that polling station staff are individually responsible "for any criminal acts they may commit during the voting and count". Yet these warnings were not sufficient to deter them, and a significant minority of staff did indeed alter ballot papers.

Costa did not suggest which candidates lost votes this way - but anyone who visited the room where the CNE checked all the ballot papers declared invalid at the polling stations could have seen that this fraud was mostly practiced against the main opposition presidential candidate, Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the former rebel movement Renamo.

AIM did see a few votes from Niassa province where it looked as if the voter had made a neat cross beside the name of incumbent president Armando Guebuza, and somebody else had added an inky fingerprint against Dhlakama's name. But these were vastly outnumbered by the opposite phenomenon - where voters had chosen Dhlakama, and a mysterious mark also appeared beside Guebuza's name.

These, it should be added, are quite distinct from genuinely invalid votes, where the same hand has clearly put a cross beside two or all three of the presidential candidates, or has put his mark in between two candidates, or has scribbled words of insult or praise across the ballot paper.

Costa did not estimate how many votes were fraudulently altered. He said "although the number of votes in this situation does not alter the final outcome of the election, the CNE vehemently repudiates this practice".

The opposition, however, claims that this form of vote tampering was generalized. So is it possible to quantify the problem? First, it should be noted that the total number of invalid votes given by Costa is alarmingly high, at 199,260, which is 4.52 per cent of the 4.4 million people who cast ballots in the presidential election.

In the last election, in 2004, only 2.65 per cent of the presidential ballots were invalid. Unless we imagine that the Mozambican electorate has become substantially more illiterate, uncertain or incompetent between 2004 and 2009, the only reasonable explanation for the rise is vote tampering.

This type of fraud gives itself away statistically. Wherever corrupt staff add marks to ballot papers, there will be an anomalously large number of invalid votes recorded at that polling station. To know how widespread it was on 28 October, one just needs to look at the polling station result sheets.

A complete picture could be obtained by trawling through all the results sheets (over 12,000 of them) on the data base held by STAE (Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat), the executive branch of the CNE.

Fortunately, we already possess a random sample of polling stations - the ones where the Electoral Observatory, the largest and most credible group of Mozambican observers, conducted its parallel count.

There are 975 polling stations in this count, or about eight per cent of the total. They cover almost every district in the country, rural and urban areas, large stations and small stations. We know that the sample is trustworthy, because the results from the Observatory's parallel count are broadly in line with the CNE's results, and with the provisional provincial counts undertaken by STAE.

The total number of invalid votes at the 975 stations was 15,287 - 4.3 per cent of the total, very close to the national figure for invalid votes given by Costa.

If we scan the Observatory stations, we find nothing very remarkable about most of them. The invalid votes account for two or three per cent of the total, and in a good number fall to below one per cent.

But there are others where the percentage climbs to above five per cent, almost all in rural areas. In major cities the problem scarcely occurs - the sample has just one station in Maputo, two in Beira and none in Nampula city where the number of invalid votes is above five per cent.

But alarm bells should begin to sound when the number of invalid votes in a polling station is over ten per cent. That is a clear indication, not of confused voters, but of illicit interference.

In the Electoral Observatory sample, there are 42 stations where the number of invalid votes is between 10 and 20 per cent of the total, 14 where it is between 20 and 30 per cent, and seven where it is over 30 per cent.

The worst case is at a polling station in Machaze district, in the central province of Manica, where 53 per cent of the 438 votes cast were invalid. No-one can seriously imagine that 232 people in this area bothered to walk to a polling station without any idea of who they were going to vote for and so deliberately voted for more than one candidate.

The suspect polling stations sometimes occur in clusters. Thus there are 19 polling stations from the northern coastal district of Angoche in the sample. In five of them the number of invalid votes was over 20 per cent - which suggests a degree of organisation among corrupt Angoche polling staff.

If the entire district had similar levels of invalid votes, one might argue that the problem lies with Angoche voters. But it doesn't. Most of the Angoche stations (11) have under ten per cent invalid votes. Where one station has 3.1 per cent invalid votes, and the next one on the list has ten times as many (31.4 per cent), the only reasonable explanation is vote tampering.

The 63 stations with over 10 per cent invalid votes is 6.5 per cent of the Electoral Observatory sample, and the 21 with over 20 per cent is 2.2 per cent. Since we already know that the sample is reliable and truly random, projections can be made for all 12,595 polling stations that operated in Mozambique These suggest that 818 polling stations were infected by this virus, and that 277 had the truly ridiculous figures of over 20 per cent invalid votes.

Each polling station had seven staff - which means that 5,726 people may have been implicated in vote tampering.

The optimistic view is that this is a minority, that over 90 per cent of the polling stations did not have this problem, and the great majority of the staff were honest. But it only takes a few crooks to cast doubt on an election and to damage the image of the country, the electoral bodies, and the winners.

The CNE says it has reported the matter to the Attorney General's Office. But it also reported the February vote tampering in the second round of the mayoral election in the northern port of Nacala. In this case, some of those who altered the ballots were seen and identified, but to date none have been arrested.

Source: Allafrica

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