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Election officials at the Democracy House prepare postal ballots yesterday for the primary round of the National Assembly elections
Election officials at the Democracy House prepare postal ballots yesterday for the primary round of the National Assembly elections

Postal ballots dispatch begins

The Election Commission of Bhutan will dispatch postal ballots for the primary round of the National Assembly elections to overseas voters today.

ECB officials said that of the numerous overseas destinations, they would complete dispatch at least to New York, USA, and Australia where there is large concentration of Bhutanese.

ECB’s postal ballot unit head, Namgay Tshering, said that 3,568 voters from overseas registered for postal ballots. Of that, Australia alone has about 1,000.

“We’re sending the ballots to overseas first because the focal persons in these countries take time to distribute and collect the ballots,” he said.

Kuensel’s interview with him is repeatedly interrupted by frequent calls on his phone. Namgay Tshering politely tells the man on the other end that nothing could be done. He said that many call to complain why they have not been updated in the postal ballot roll.

Namgay Tshering said even those who registered for the National Council elections should confirm their registration with the unit.

“We’ve spent a lot of money and announced in the mainstream media about the registration process and checking their status, but people still don’t know,” he said, adding that there were rumours on the social media about the last date of registration.

Outside the unit’s office, a person stands at the door threatening a lady official of the postal ballot unit to take the issue to higher authorities. The lady wraps her explanation with a smile and the man leaves. 

“They can still vote at their polling stations on the electronic voting machine,” Namgay Tshering said.

The 65 facilitation booths for the primary round elections will open for three days beginning September 7. The 13 mobile booths will remain open for the day. However, the closing time has been extended to 7pm to allow office goers to vote after office time.

The advantage with the facilitation booths is that there is minimum rejection of the ballots. “That’s why we encourage voters to opt for this facility,” he said. Voting at facilitation booths have been made compulsory for students, trainees in institutions, and the national workforce to ensure minimum errors.

Voters have to write their details and of their witness’ on the IDC form. The sealed envelope B contains  the ballot. The envelop B is placed inside envelop A along with the IDC form.

Elections officials said that overseas voters should be aware of dates and return the ballots on time in order to avoid rejection. ECB spends between Nu 2,500 to Nu 4,500 to send a ballot abroad. At home, unlike in earlier elections, the ECB head office will send the ballots directly to the address of the voters as most of them reside in the capital.

“This will save us time and money,” Namgay Tshering said. For instance, earlier the head office sends the ballots to the dzongkhags, which then send them to the voters in Thimphu and then the ballots are returned to the dzongkhags. “A lot of time was lost there,” he said.

On poll day, 47 ballot boxes, one for each constituency, will be placed at each facilitation booth. The boxes would be then sealed in presence of the polling officials, independent observers, security personnel, and handed over to the Bhutan Post official who will also witness the packaging of the boxes.

The facilitation booth is also a  cheaper option for the commission compared to the conventional ballots. Every conventional postal ballot costs Nu 180, but the PB facilitation booth ballot costs half that amount.

Of the 438,663 registered voters for the National Assembly elections, 304,868 are expected to vote on the EVMs across the 865 polling stations and 133,795 will vote through postal ballot.

A total of 59,749 people had registered to vote at postal ballot facilitation booths in the National Council election earlier this year, which included public servants and students, and constituted 67 percent of 88,915 registered postal voters from the 20 dzongkhags.

Meanwhile, the commission has an allocated budget Nu 500 million for the two rounds of elections. Most of it will go into covering expenditures of the election officials such as daily allowances, transportation, telecommunication and meals, during the elections.

The commission will deploy 3,706 officials on election duty for elections, a drop of 1,913 personnel from 5,619 deployed during the National Council elections conducted earlier this year.

The commission’s spokesperson, Sonam Tobgyal, said that the commission after reviewing requisitions from dzongkhags decided to reduce the election officials to save costs. The NA elections has one polling station less than the NC elections. 

The polling stations will not have polling assistants for the National Assembly elections and there will be no presiding officers in those polling stations with less than 250 registered voters.

“The polling officer will also act as the presiding officer because from experience we know the individual can handle it,” Sonam Tobgyal said.

Of the total polling stations, 191 polling stations have less than 250 registered voters.

The four political parties will be taking a little over Nu 7M as party fund during the primary round. In the general round, each candidate of the two political parties will be provided with Nu 150,000 as a campaign fund.The ECB will release the campaign fund today. Commission officials said the campaign materials for the candidates were dispatched yesterday.

 

Election officials to be deployed – 3,706

Chief Election Coordinators -20

Dy Chief Election Coordinators -39

Assistant Chief Election Coordinators -205

DEDSB Members- 40

National Observers- 47

Micro Observer- 2

Returning Officers -47

Assistant Returning Officers -2

Presiding Officers -865

Polling Officers -2,412

Media Arbitrator-1

Social Media Monitor -22

Legal Officers- 4

Tshering Palden

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