Sunday, February 22, 2009

Voter Disenfranchisement In Provincial Elections

Iraq’s Election Commission recently announced that there was voter fraud in all fourteen of the country’s provinces that participated in the provincial elections. 30 voting boxes were thrown out as a result. That however was a very small fraction of the total used. There were 37,000 voting centers alone for example that used countless numbers of ballot boxes. A much larger and more serious problem was the apparent disenfranchisement of an unknown amount of Iraqis that could not find their names on the registration rolls.

In Wasit province Hayat Yusif was an independent woman candidate running for office for the first time. She spent her own money campaigning. On election-day January 31, 2008 when she went to cast her ballot she couldn’t find her name on the voting list. When she went to the Election Commission about it they said that up to 700 others had already complained about the same issue. From news reports this situation apparently played out across the entire country. In each situation the Election Commission said that it was the voters’ fault for not registering.

There was much confusion about exactly how this process worked however. The New York Times’ Baghdad Bureau Blog said that every Iraqi that had a food ration card was automatically registered to vote. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy said everyone over 18 was allowed to vote. Iraqis still had to sign up however. The biggest problem was with the displaced that had very low registration numbers.

The government ran public information campaigns about the new system, but many were still left out. Hayat Yusif was one of these. She didn’t register because she believed that everyone who had a food ration card was automatically signed up. The same thing happened to thousands of others, especially the internal refugees. The exact number is not known, but the Election Commission claimed it was only 1% of voters. The Los Angeles Times reported that some Iraqis went from voting station to station looking for their names. A journalist that worked as an election monitor in Kut, Wasit said that 90 people were turned away from the voting station he watched because they were not on the voting rolls. In Basra, the Election Commission admitted that many displaced were not able to vote because they didn’t register. In Diyala the Kurdish Alliance claimed that 16,000 Kurdish families in the Khanaqin district couldn’t vote. 700 displaced families in the provincial capital Baquba protested over the same matter, as well as in Haswa, a town west of Baghdad. In Ninewa the Kurds said thousands couldn’t vote there as well.

A voting monitor from Europe who went to eight voting centers in northern Iraq said the registration system was flawed because so many voters were left off the lists. For the displaced, some might have been registered in their original provinces instead of where they currently resided. For others like Hayat Yusif they might not have understood the new system and never signed up. Whatever the case it’s apparent that the situation was widespread enough to keep several thousand of Iraqis from participating in the provincial ballot. This was a sad note for an otherwise successful election. The major question now is if these people that were not allowed to vote will continue to participate in the other elections planned for this year or whether their disenfranchisement will make them cynical and drop out.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qssim, “Iraqi election commission acknowledges fraud,” Associated Press, 2/15/09

Abdullah, Muhammed, “displaced denied vote in diyala,” Niqash, 2/3/09

Bruno, Greg, “Iraq’s Political Landscape,” Council on Foreign Relations, 1/29/09

Carpenter, J. Scott and Knights, Michael, “Provincial Elections Kick Off Iraq’s Year of Choices,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/26/09

Fadel, Leila, “Calm Iraqi election marred as thousands were denied vote,” McClatchy Newspapers, 1/31/09
- “Low turnout in Iraq’s election reflects a disillusioned nation,” McClatchy Newspapers, 2/2/09
- “Some fraud found but no revote,” Baghdad Observer Blog, McClatchy Newspapers, 2/15/09

Morin, Monte, “Iraq vote turnout fails to meet expectations,” Los Angeles Times, 2/2/09

Naji, Zaineb, “Voter Apathy Among Iraq Displaced,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 9/24/08

Rubin, Alissa, “Election Turnout: Analysis,” Baghdad Bureau Blog, New York Times, 2/1/09

Sands, Phi, “’Great confusion’ at Iraqi polling stations,” The National, 2/3/09

Sands, Phil and Latif, Nizar, "Registration rule denied many Iraqis their vote," The National, 2/8/09

Al-Wazzan, Saleem, "al-maliki emerges triumphant in basra," Niqash, 2/4/09

Williams, Timothy, “The Ballot: Inside Iraq’s Voting Booth,” Baghdad Bureau Blog, New York times, 1/13/09

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