MANDALAY — Police officers assigned duties at the ballot box on polling day were among those casting advance votes in Amarapura Township earlier this week, with some voicing concern over the process of collecting ballots.
“We could vote freely and secretly, but we had to give the envelopes to the commission authorities. They said the ballot boxes had not yet arrived when we were there,” a police officer in the township, who requested anonymity, told The Irrawaddy.
When casting advance ballots, voters are required to seal ballot papers in envelopes and place them in the ballot box.
“There were about 60 policemen who arrived early to vote and had no chance to put them into the [ballot] box,” the police officer said. “We are just afraid someone may make our votes fraudulent.”
Some 40,000 “special police” recruited to stand duty at polling stations and additional security personnel; firefighters; polling station officers; and candidates in the election are among those permitted to cast advance votes from Oct. 29 to Nov. 5.
There were no reports to hand of similar complaints over vote collection in other Mandalay Division townships. However, another issue concerned the placement of election commission stamps and authorized persons’ signatures on ballot papers, which has reportedly differed across townships.
In Aung Myay Thar San Township, authorized signatures were marked on the front page of ballot papers while in Chan Mya Tharzi Township, signatures were written on the reverse side.
“We were instructed by the divisional sub-commission not to sign on the front page or it would become an invalid ballot paper,” explained a local election official in Chan Mya Tharzi.
The issue has caught the attention of some advance voters concerned their ballot may be deemed invalid when votes are counted.
“We’ve voted [on ballots] with the signature on the front page. Who will take responsibility if our ballots are marked invalid because of that signature?” said an army officer who cast an advance vote in Aung Myay Thar San Township.
More than 50 police officers, army officials and around 70 elderly people from local care facilities cast advance votes in the township on Wednesday.
When quizzed on the issue of signatures, deputy-director general of the Mandalay Division election sub-commission Kyaw Kyaw Soe, said that both versions of ballot papers would be deemed valid.
“The election law said there must be no signature or false mark on the front of the ballot and some have misunderstood that. We know the problems and have already instructed the authorities to count every advance ballot, [whether it is] signed on front or back,” Kyaw Kyaw Soe said.
Voter List Errors
Mandalay residents have also reported that final voter lists still contain errors, with complaints pouring in as sub-commission offices across the division continue the distribution of voter ID cards.
In several townships, names and other details such as national registration card numbers are incorrect on voter lists, while the names of some voters are reportedly still missing entirely.
“My name was correct on the previous list. But now it is wrong,” said Win May, a resident of Mandalay’s Myo Thit quarter in Pyigyitagon Township. “The commission said they will let me vote on the day, however, I’m afraid I might not get the chance. Who knows?”
With the election just days away, scores of people are still attending sub-commission offices to view voter lists.
“Some have submitted forms for correction. However, they are still missing from the list or are still reporting errors. For those persons, we will allow them to vote on the day by checking their identities and family registration papers,” said a sub-commission election official in Chan Mya Tharzi Township.
Mobile text messages sent to citizens by the Union Election Commission said voters whose names or other information is incorrect on polling day will be eligible to vote at the recommendation of local election authorities.
However, those not registered to vote in the constituency in which they abide or who had not submitted correction forms would reportedly not be afforded the same leniency on polling day.
“We’ve made announcements [requesting voters] check the list and make amendments three times. If they have failed to do so after all previous announcements, it is hard for us to include them in the list and let them vote on the day. They will lose the chance to vote,” said Kyaw Kyaw Soe.
Voting for Disabled Persons
The Mandalay Division election sub-commission has said arrangements would be made to facilitate access for disabled persons to polling stations on Sunday.
However, Sai Aung Htet, chairman of the Mandalay Disabled Association, said he had faced several difficulties in arranging to cast a vote.
“My name is still missing from the list. The authorities said they would arrange it. I requested to cast an advance vote, however, the voting rooms are upstairs, where I can’t go,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“We still don’t know what they will do for the elderly and people like me who can’t wait in lines. Most of the voting stations in town are not disability friendly,” he said.
Earlier this year, the UEC pledged to implement measures to enhance voting rights for the disabled, including using Braille templates on ballots to guide blind voters. However, disability activists noted that not all suggestions to the UEC from civil society were accepted and that some of the new policies would only be implemented in constituencies with high disabled populations.
According to Burma’s 2014 census, there are 2.3 million people with disabilities nationwide.
“Although most disabled persons can cast advance votes at disabled centers and schools, there are still many people who want to vote on the day, personally,” said Sai Aung Htet. “The authorities need to allow for those people too.”