Election 2020

Myanmar Election Officials Scramble to Correct Error-Riddled Voter Lists

By San Yamin Aung 6 August 2020

YANGON—In the run-up to the general election on Nov. 8, preliminary voter lists released to the public have been the focus of intense criticism, as the rolls are riddled with errors and inaccuracies.

Over the past two weeks, there have been many reports of flaws in the preliminary voter lists, ranging from incorrect names and national registration card numbers to the inclusion of deceased people and the omission of whole families. Released on July 25 and displayed publicly in various cities, the preliminary lists were initially scheduled to remain posted until tomorrow, but will remain on display until Aug. 14 to give voters enough time to submit correction requests.

Amid an outpouring of public complaints over the flawed voter-list rollout, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday instructed officials with primary responsibility for the election process to correct the lists, warning that failure to do so could deny many eligible voters their chance to cast ballots in the election.

Addressing the officials in a videoconference, she said, “There are many reports of flaws in voter lists all over the country. This is a very important issue for us to take care of,” she stressed as she discussed election preparations with the officials.

Minister of Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe acknowledged the problem. He said that because this is the first time voter lists have been rolled out on such a wide scale, they contain many mistakes, including erroneous exclusions and inclusions, as well as incorrect data.

He vowed to work hard to ensure that the revised voter lists would incorporate all corrections forwarded by the public. The new voter lists are due to be displayed in October.

Continuing her criticism, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that even some of those whose voter data were correct in the 2015 general election had complained of errors this time. In some cases, she said, the problem was not a mere typo, but involved entirely incorrect sets of data. She asked the officials to explain why the voter lists contained such serious inaccuracies.

Minister U Thein Swe acknowledged that even members of his own family had been affected by incorrect data.

The voter lists were compiled by sub-election commission members working with staff from the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population and the General Administration Department across the country. Some 37.5 million people are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

U Thein Swe pointed out that the voter list in his area had given him a new wife. “Even my son found that his mother’s name was wrong, while my daughter-in-law found that her late grandma’s name was still on the list,” he said.

He admitted failings in the process of compiling voter data on the ground, in digitalizing voter data for display, and in the process of double-checking the compiled data.

However, Union Election Commission member U Myint Naing, who joined the videoconference, expressed confidence that the voter lists for this year’s election would be more accurate than those for the previous vote in 2015, despite the many errors being reported.

Residents of Kyauktada Township in Yangon check voter lists posted outside a polling station on Wednesday. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

He insisted that the collection of information for voter lists focused on actual data of residents, rather than relying on outdated household registration lists.

U Myint Naing added that he was satisfied that more voters were checking the lists this time, compared to the previous election.

“As of Aug. 4, more than 6 million [17.6 percent of eligible voters] had checked the lists. This is very satisfying. I have never seen a such large number of people checking the voter lists,” said U Myint Naing, who was also a member of the former election commission that oversaw the 2015 election.

But his statement failed to impress the State Counselor, who responded, “That’s because they’re afraid the voter lists contain many flaws, isn’t it?”

Evidence on social media suggests the State Counselor is right. In the days after the voter lists were released, many people posted notes online reminding their fellow voters to check that their names were on the lists, after finding their own information had been omitted or contained errors.

Ko Aung Htet, a native of Sanchaung Township in Yangon Region, wrote on his Facebook account that he was very surprised to discover that the voting list in his area omitted the names of his entire family and everyone living in his building.

He urged others to go and check to make sure their information was included in the list.

According to UEC data, ahead of the 2015 general election, 12.3 percent of eligible voters checked the preliminary lists. Yet, at the time, preliminary lists were only displayed in 10 townships in Yangon. This time, they are being displayed in most cities in the country, except in some conflict-affected areas in Chin and Rakhine states.

Despite the errors, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said it was still a good sign that a large number of people were checking the voter lists to see if their names were there, saying it showed that the people are interested in the election and recognized its importance.

Commissioner U Myint Naing said that so far, over 400,000 people had forwarded correction requests, including fixes for erroneous exclusions and inclusions, and faulty data.

On a different topic, the election commissioner was caught unprepared when asked what steps the UEC had taken to ensure the voting could be successfully held in line with COVID-19 preventive measures issued by the Health Ministry.

The State Counselor expressed concern that the polling stations’ opening hours would be insufficient to allow all voters to enter the stations’ compounds before closing at 4 p.m., given that they would have to follow social distancing rules while queuing outside. She asked whether the commission planned to extend voting hours, and whether wearing gloves would hinder voters’ ability to stamp their ballots.

The commissioner did not have a clear answer for either question.

During the videoconference, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also urged all citizens who were over the age 18, and therefore eligible to vote, to do their duty and participate in the election.

“Criticizing the system without casting a vote is an irresponsible act,” she said, adding that all citizens needed to perform their duty by voting, something that required only one day every five years.

“Holding an election successfully is not just a matter of politics, but a very important matter for the nation,” she said.

With just one day to go in the preliminary voter list display period, the commission decided to extend the period to give voters more time to make corrections, given the large number of errors and inaccuracies discovered in the lists.

Yangon Region sub-election commission chairman U Kyi Myint confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the voter list display period had been extended until Aug. 14.

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