RANGOON — Advance voting began on Thursday for individuals who will be tied up with duties at polling stations on election day, with a smattering of complaints aired about a process that is being watched closely after Burma’s 2010 general election, in which manipulation of advance voting is said to have helped swing races in favor of the ruling party.
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 allowed to cast advance votes from Thursday, and they will have through Nov. 5 to do so. So too will soldiers who are deployed on election day to a location other than the constituency in which they are registered to vote.
Normal citizens can cast advance votes on Nov. 6 and 7 if they have applied in advance, ahead of election day on Nov. 8.
Kyi Pyar, a Rangoon divisional parliamentary hopeful running in Kyauktada Township, said election subcommissions had asked candidates to come to ward administrative offices when they opened their doors for voting on Thursday morning to observe how polling officials were sealing advance ballot boxes. The National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate assigned a group of volunteers to make the rounds, but she said some election subcommissions were not willing to show how the process was being carried out.
She said Mi Kon Chan, an NLD candidate in Mon State’s Paung Township, cast her advance vote on Thursday in Rangoon, where she complained that the ballot paper and brown envelope in which it was sealed were of low quality. “After she cast her vote and put it in the envelope, the glue was wet. The ballot could be torn [when ballots are unsealed to be counted],” she said.
“I am thinking to tell the township subcommission about this. I will tell them to use dry glue,” Kyi Pyar said.
“The slot for ballot boxes is narrow too,” the 36-year-old added. “The ballot has to be folded when it is put in it. So, it could be considered an invalid vote because the ballot sheet is folded.”
Also of concern to Kyi Pyar were the stamps used to mark ballots in this year’s election. The stamps, which contain a reserve of ink and do not require an accompanying ink pad, were secreting too much ink and risked staining voters’ hands, she claimed. While an inconvenience for voters, a more weighty concern in such instances is the prospect of voters then unintentionally staining their ballot, which risks invalidating the vote.
“The township commission said you should keep a tissue with you. This is nonsense,” Kyi Pyar said. “Nobody will keep tissue with them all the time. Even if we gave voter education to this effect, the public might forget.”
Nay Phone Latt, a fellow NLD candidate running in Thingangyun Township, posted to his Facebook account on Thursday, saying he had checked at some quarters’ election subcommission offices as advance ballots arrived and voting commenced.
He wrote in his post that he had noted a few concerns about the process, such as ballot sheets being yellow in color, in some instances making party logos’ white design elements appear to be yellow instead, a potential confusion for voters.
Nay Phone Latt also claimed that there was potential for ostensibly sealed ballot boxes to be pried open and ballots either removed or added thereafter.
“I have requested to tape all openings of the ballot box according to the instruction that all advance ballots must be safely sealed,” he wrote.
Allegations of manipulated advance voting were one factor in Burma’s 2010 general election widely being viewed as fraudulent, with the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claiming a commanding victory in a vote that was not open to international or domestic election observers.
In a report released Tuesday, international election monitors from the Carter Center voiced disappointment at not being granted access to out-of-constituency advance voting.
“In order for observers to effectively monitor out-of-constituency advance voting and comment on the integrity of the process, they must be able to observe the actual casting of the ballots so as to assess the degree to which ballots are cast in secret, by the actual voter, without intimidation,” the Washington-based poll watchdog said in its report.
Advance voting for overseas voters began on Oct. 13 and has largely concluded. Burmese nationals at embassies in several foreign capitals also complained of problems in the administration of the vote, including unlisted names or incomplete details on voter lists, missing ballot papers, poor quality envelopes and long wait times.