Assessment of handling of complaints filed by ISFED at district election commissions
Assessment of handling of complaints filed by ISFED at district election commissions during the 2021 Municipal election
During the October 2 Municipal elections, ISFED filed 346 complaints at district election commissions (DECs) on violations of voting procedures, vote tabulation and summary protocols, as well as regulations pertaining to the outside perimeter of polling stations. ISFED also filed 122 complaints at the PEC level and logged 62 entries in polling station record books about procedural violations.
56 out of the 346 complaints filed at the DECs were approved, 60 were partially approved, 198 were rejected and 28 were not reviewed. Administrative proceedings on 4 cases are still ongoing. The organization filed 4 complaints with district courts on violations concerning summary protocols and voting process at 6 polling stations. Two of the complaints were later filed in the appeals court.
ISFED representatives had an opportunity to attend the complaints adjudication process at DECs and voice their opinions regarding the cases. According to the organization’s representatives, the adjudication process was carried out in a constructive environment. The only exception was the Ozurgeti DEC, which failed to establish a collaborative environment in reviewing the complaint concerning the polling station #2.
The following trends were observed at DECs in the dispute resolution process:
- In some DECs, sittings concerning the complaints and recounts started late in the evening and often lasted until midnight. Therefore, members of the commission made important decisions about electoral processes when they were tired, which - in some occasions - made the dispute resolution process superficial;
- DECs often avoided taking disciplinary action against PEC members and justified their negligence by tiredness or human errors;
- The disciplinary measures used were mostly “remarks” or “warnings”. In the complaints review process, apart from explanations filed at polling stations, DECs also relied on verbal explanations by PEC members, who were summoned as a part of administrative proceedings;
- Apart from reviewing the explanations from PECs, DECs often opened and checked the record book entries and other relevant documentation, which should be assessed positively;
- DECs did not have a consistent approach in examining evidence regarding the complaints. Part of the DECs thoroughly studied the circumstances about respective cases, but some DEC chairpersons had already made their decisions before the sittings and they notified the rest of the commission members that they had already examined all necessary circumstances;
- Complaints requesting administrative liabilities were not approved despite severity of violations and although there were legal prerequisites for administrative measures, the commission opted for less severe, disciplinary actions. In the decision-making process, the commissions disregarded the principle of proportionality, which created an impression that the measures used were not adequate to the severity of violations;
- Despite the volume of complaints requesting vote recounts, DECs often partially examined certain data at their own initiative. When examining the complaints filed by the organizations, DECs would note that the data had already been verified at their initiative.
ISFED observers filed 113 complaints requesting full or partial recounts of 131 polling station data. These requests were mostly filed in cases when data in summary protocols were changed or when there was a misbalance – namely, the sum of the number of invalid ballots and the votes received by the electoral subjects significantly exceeded or fell behind the number of voters who had cast their votes.
During the dispute resolution process, it emerged as a trend that in cases when ISFED requested recounts and administrative measures against offenders, part of the DECs recounted the votes at their initiative after respective complaints were submitted. In some cases, it resulted in disciplinary measures against commissioners involved in these violations, but in respective decrees DECs indicated that the complaints were not approved or were partially approved, since they had already taken actions at their own initiative. On the contrary, part of the DECs that recounted the data at their own initiative, considered ISFED’s complaints approved.
Of 131 polling stations, DECs rejected the recount requests in 50 cases. 81 polling stations were fully or partially recounted. Of this, 61 polling stations were recounted upon the initiative of the election administration and the remaining 20 – as part of ISFED's complaints.
Of the 61 polling stations that were recounted at the initiative of the election administration, 10 polling stations were partially recounted during nighttime on October 9, following CEC chairperson’s calls to recount the polling stations in question, including those with surplus misbalances or high number of invalid ballots or those with complaints submitted by monitoring organizations.
72 of the filed complaints were concerning violations in summary protocols, when required information was either not indicated entirely or was indicated inaccurately. For example, the date and the time of completing the summary protocol and the commission stamp were not indicated, or the required fields were left blank, etc. The organization demanded disciplinary measures against those involved in these violations, while in cases when the summary protocol data was changed - administrative measures. Of these complaints, 16 complaints were fully approved, 7 were partially approved and 42 were not approved. Administrative procedures on 4 cases are still ongoing.
Out of 17 complaints about interference of the rights of ISFED observers, 2 were fully approved and one was partially approved. The rest were not approved or were not reviewed. DECs massively neglected the violations of observers’ rights in many cases, including those involving signs of administrative violations.
Citing substantive violations during the voting process, ISFED demanded annulment of results of the polling stations #14 and #48 of Marneuli, #90 of Zugdidi and #28 of Tsalenjikha, but none of the requests were approved.1 The organization also demanded the annulment of results from 3 mobile boxes, 1 out of which was approved. The court dispute about the polling stations in Marneuli and Zugdidi is pending.
That DECs decision not to process ISFED’s 28 complaints should be assessed negatively, as their decisions lacked legal argumentation. Majority of these complaints were concerning violations of voting procedures. However, a few complaints related to summary protocols were also left without processing, citing that the organization had not submitted complaints regarding the vote tabulation process at the polling station. The period of filling a complaint concerning summary protocols is two calendar days and anyone can file a complaint during this period even without filing a complaint on the vote tabulation process. Even though there were only a few of such cases, such an assessment by a DEC deprives an authorized person the right to file a complaint.
As for the decisions not to process the complaints about violations of observers’ rights, in these cases, the argument was that the complaints were not filed at respective polling stations. This argument was used by a chairperson of the DEC of Samgori, when the organization’s observers were denied access to a polling station and they were allowed in only after the DEC members were informed and a complaint was lodged at the DEC. Therefore, it is unclear how an observer could present a complaint to the PEC when he/she was unable to do so.
The DEC of Poti failed to process any of the organization’s complaints concerning violations during voting and vote tabulation processes. According to the DEC’s, the violation was immediately addressed at the polling station and a respective entry was made in the record book. Addressing of a violation at the polling station should not have become a basis for not processing the complaint, since it goes against the law. DEC has a legally delineated right to decide when not to process a complaint – namely, when a complaint is made without indicating an authorized person, in violation of the terms for submission or without indicating its purpose. In this case, there were none of the preconditions listed above.
ISFED considers that the recounts of polling stations data based on complaints is a step to be welcomed for increasing trust towards the election administration. This practice should be continued in the future. It is also important that decisions about recounts should be legally reflected in decrees concerning the complaints. Moreover, the process of informing the stakeholders about recounts should be timely and the process – more transparent. It is important that the flaws identified in the first round of the Municipal elections are addressed in the second round runoffs.
ISFED continues analyzing the complaints and respective decisions and these findings will be presented in the organization’s final report of the Municipal elections.
 The DEC of Marneuli did not take into consideration the instances of voting without undergoing the inking procedure, voting without presenting identification documents and substantial violations of vote tabulation procedures at polling stations #14 and #48. The DEC of Zugdidi did not take into consideration the fact that at polling station #90, the voting process was held with substantial violations. There were instances of verbal assault, confrontation, and pressure towards ISFED’s observers. After expelling the ISFED observer from the polling station, there were facts of verbal assaults and an attempt of physical attack against other ISFED observers. The organization’s observers were expelled from the polling station consecutively and were deprived of the opportunity to observe the voting process. According to ISFED, the PEC acted not at its own initiative, but upon instruction of Giorgi Jikia, a representative of the “Public Union Georgia First”. ISFED observers observed attempts of voting without undergoing the inking procedure and repeat voting at the polling station. The situation at the polling station was uncontrollable. A representative of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association was also expelled from this polling station.