United Nations proposes criteria for ordering recounts and invalidations

24 Jul 2014

United Nations proposes criteria for ordering recounts and invalidations

KABUL - The United Nations (UN) today presented its proposal to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) for a regulatory decision covering criteria for ordering the recount of ballot boxes and the invalidation of ballots as part of the ongoing comprehensive audit of the results of the Presidential election run-off held on 15 June.

The Director of the UN’s Electoral Assistance Division, Craig Jenness, delivered the proposal to the IEC Chairman, Dr. Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, earlier this afternoon.

Under the technical agreement reached by the two Presidential candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani, the UN was asked to propose the manner for the supervision of the audit. In making its proposals, the agreement requires the UN to consult with both candidates.

As part of the technical agreement, the entirety of the approximately 23,000 ballot boxes of the run-off are to be audited in Kabul in the presence of international and domestic observers, candidate agents, the media and UN advisors.

In the first part of the audit, there is a physical inspection of each ballot box in the IEC auditing warehouses in Kabul. Using a 16-point checklist set out in the technical agreement, IEC audit teams are recording information as to the physical condition of each box, the state of its results form, whether ballot papers in the box were marked according to procedure or show significant patterns of obviously similar markings, and relevant information from the polling station journal and polling station voter log. No decisions as to the inclusion or exclusion of votes are made during this stage of information gathering, which has been ongoing since 17 July.

The second part of the audit involves open meetings of the IEC Board of Commissioners where decisions are made to accept, recount or invalidate results based upon reports generated from the information gathered during the physical audit.

As per the technical agreement, these Commission meetings will be conducted in the presence of international and domestic observers, candidate agents, the media and a UN advisor. Following the IEC board’s decisions, the results of the associated polling stations will be processed at the National Tally Centre. Under Afghan law, the Presidential campaigns retain the right to appeal these decisions to the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) within 24 hours and the IECC is required to provide a ruling on these appeals within a further 48 hours.

In order to provide a tangible expression of support to the technical agreement, the two Presidential candidates supported the start of the physical stage of the audit on 17 July. At this time it was also agreed that IEC Board meetings to decide on the acceptance, recount or invalidation of results would not take place until a regulatory decision setting out recount and invalidation criteria was formally adopted.

From a legal standpoint, the current audit is being conducted under Article 58 of Afghanistan's Electoral Law, which allows for the investigation of “justifiable complaints of or visible signs of fraud in the ballot boxes.” Election fraud is a very serious infringement of democratic values, strictly forbidden by Afghan laws. Every effort is required to excise electoral fraud from the political system, not just for the purposes of the present audit but for the sake of future elections. At the same time, the foundation of democracy is the equal right of each citizen to choose their leaders through the ballot. Every effort is also required to preserve the sanctity of legitimate ballots, especially given the real risks that many Afghans took in casting their ballots. This is a difficult balance in any country, and more so in Afghanistan’s current context which includes challenges related to security, low levels of literacy and a history of troubled elections.

The current UN proposal regarding recounts and invalidations attempts to strike the proper balance between these two considerations and follows the Afghan Constitution and legal framework. It was developed after extensive consultations with both Presidential campaigns.

The UN was ultimately not able to obtain agreement of both or either candidate to a common text that was agreeable to the other candidate. It has therefore proposed a text which addresses the legitimate points raised during the consultations while meeting the best international standards and factoring in the unique context of Afghanistan.

Given the urgency of the matter, the United Nations has now encouraged the IEC Board to rapidly meet and adopt the necessary regulatory decisions based on this proposal so that the next stage of the audit can commence.