Which entails a big risk of voters getting discounted, if procedures are not adhered to
Almost 6,000 people have come forward in less than five days to register with election commission of Bhutan to vote through post.
This has taken the total registered postal voter to 55,609 as of yesterday. It was at 49,706 when the commission made public the draft postal voters list while issuing the election-calling notification.
The figure also includes around 270 Bhutanese living in United States, the service being extended for the first time.
While it was the civil servants, students and trainees, armed forces and persons working in the embassies, among others, who could avail the postal ballot, the service was also made available to direct dependents and spouses of civil servants, which didn’t happen during the first parliamentary elections.
All this led to a substantial increase in the postal voters list, as compared to the first council election.
This time, even if only 50 percent of the registered postal voters submit application for postal ballot, as required by norm, the number will still be higher from the first council election that saw a total of 20,992 applications.
But the thing about the first election was that around 77 percent of the applications were rejected. At the end, only about 6,550 ballots were issued. But even after that, the number dropped further when, during the poll day, the total valid postal ballot votes cast was 4,742.
Filling in wrong voter identity card numbers, providing wrong mailing addresses, “ticking” in place of “crossing” were some of the reasons why the postal votes failed to make it to the count.
Having experienced the pivotal role the postal ballot played during the past elections, where as little as two votes made all the difference in constituencies, like those of Gasa, that’s a huge vote wasted.
Will more postal voters this time mean as many fallen by the wayside?
Plus too, it is a costly affair. The commission has negotiated with Bhutan Post at Nu 80 per transaction. Which means the sending of postal ballot by the returning officer, and the voter filling it up and sending it back, would cost Nu 160. If all those who register apply successfully, the amount would run into millions.
In fact, if all those who register apply for postal ballot successfully, the total cost would run into almost Nu 9M.
Chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, while issuing notification on March 10, reminded those who would like to cast their vote through postal ballot that it was a complicated process and required dedicated effort.
“You have to be very aware of formalities and the time factor,” he said.
Election officials have, in the past, stressed the procedure involved was the simplest and most efficient process in place to ensure there were no bogus votes.
However, over the years, slight changes have been made to make the postal ballot user-friendlier. Unlike in the past, for a competent witness, it is not necessary to have someone from the same constituency and, instead, any eligible voter will do.
The voter’s identity card number is same as one’s citizenship identity card number. A “tick” against the candidate of one’s choice should work.
Deputy chief electoral registration and boundary delimitation officer, Sonam Tobgyal, said even the forms have been improvised to make it more user friendly.
“But unless your service is required for the conduct of the election, we always encourage people to make it physically to the polling stations to vote,” he said, adding that it ensured the votes were counted, reducing any sort of risk.
Sonam Tobgyal said, even otherwise, they have focused on giving more voter education this time that included postal ballot voting procedures.
The commission officials, at the moment, are continuing with carrying out postal ballot education in ministries and agencies.
Meanwhile, Sonam Tobgyal reminded that, once the eligible postal voters have submitted application for postal ballot to the returning officers, the name of the voter would be erased from the electoral roll.
“This means you can’t vote from the polling stations, since it’s understood that you’ve voted through postal ballot,” he said.
By Kesang Dema