Evaluation of the Complaints Process at DECs
Based on the interim data processed thus far, ISFED has filed 194 complaints with district electoral commissions (DECs) in connection to violations detected during the voting, counting of votes and in the post-election period of October 21 local self-government elections. 42 of ISFED complaints were satisfied, 30 were partially satisfied, 80 were not satisfied and 6 were dismissed without consideration. Complaints seeking imposition of administrative penalty on commission members are still pending.
Majority of the complaints sought imposition of liability on precinct electoral commission (PEC) members due to their inadequate performance. 33 complaints requested recount of polling results but none of these requests were granted. Recount of poling results was mainly requested in cases of altered summary protocols or when figures did not reconcile - the sum invalid ballots and votes received by electoral subjects exceed number of voters that cast a ballot.
48 of the complaints have been filed over incomplete or inaccurate summary protocols, i.e. when protocols provided inaccurate requisites or were missing relevant details – e.g. the date and time the protocol was drafted, commission seal number, etc. 15 complaints involved PECs where sum of invalid ballots and votes garnered by electoral subjects exceeded the number of voters that participated in the elections. 8 complaints were filed over overwriting/altering data entered into summary protocols.
ISFED representatives were able to attend the complaints process and voice ISFED positions about the complaints. However, a number of problems were identified in the complaints process, more specifically:
- DECs viewed explanatory notes of PEC members as irrefutable evidence irrespective of gravity of a violation and the fact that in a number of cases these notes were written two or three days after the Election Day.
- As a new trend, DECs viewed explanatory notes as grounds for relieving commission members of liability.
- Further, in a number of cases, DECs considered a violation eliminated as a result of explanatory note written, which is illogical.
- DECs avoided recount of voting results at a polling station irrespective of gravity of violations (e.g. alteration of data entered into protocols, figures not reconciling, etc.). It should be noted that even in such cases DECs relied on explanatory notes of PEC members or correction protocols, also prepared mostly after the Election Day.
- To relieve PEC members of liability, DECs often argued that a violation did not amount to a gross breach of legislation and did not influence expression of voters’ will.
- Decisions made by DECs were ill-founded in some cases.
- Inconsistent approach was used (for instance, by Batumi DEC), since members of one PEC were not penalized for a violation that members of another PEC were penalized for.
As an overall trend, ISFED found that DECs were using array of arguments in an attempt to avoid not only recounting polling station results but also imposing a penalty on PEC members. This is clearly illustrated by the fact that most of ISFED complaints were not satisfied, unlike complaints processes in the past.
Such approach of the electoral administration towards Election Code violations is utterly unacceptable. Justifying any violation with an explanatory note and finding a violation to be eliminated on the basis of such notes undermines existence of electoral legislation and applicable sanctions. Such practice encourages PEC members to disregard requirements of the law in the future.
On the runoff Election Day and during subsequent complaints process, the electoral administration must take into account the problems that have been identified, take effective actions in response to violations of the Election Code of Georgia and refrain from encouraging violations of the election law by letting electoral commission members escape liability.