Kathmandu: Although the Election Commission has claimed it has completed preparation for local-level polls, politicians, democracy activists, and intellectuals are worried that a large number of ballots might be invalidated in the local polls due to confusion among voters.
Election Commission has printed two types of ballot papers for the local elections: one-page and two-page ballot papers. One-page ballot papers are being used in the 36 districts while the remaining 41 districts will have two-page ballot papers.
In the ballot papers, rows of election symbols are assigned in the ascending order of the size of political parties – the symbol of the largest at the first row, followed by other parties and independent candidates.
This election will use the first-past-the-post method to elect seven representatives from a symbol-based ballot paper. In the ballot paper, there are seven columns (or ballots): the first column (ballot) is for mayor or chairperson, the second for deputy mayor or vice-chair, the third for ward chairperson, the fourth for women ward member, and the fifth for Dalit women ward member. The remaining two are for the other two ward members – the sixth ballot for one and the seventh for another.
Experts and observers indicate some flaws in the ballot paper that may result in a high number of invalid votes.
Indicating that political parties and candidates did not get sufficient time for the voter education campaign, advocate Baburam Aryal said, “It is unfair not to allow candidates to reach out to the voters and make them aware of the voting patterns.”
“Our Election Commission operates in a bureaucratic form and prioritizes process than the spirit of democratic norms and principles.”
What makes the ballot paper confusing is the assignment of an election symbol for position candidates are not contesting.
Some errors have been made in many forms and they can be easily identified in the sample ballot papers. Voters need to put a stamp with a Swastik symbol inside the ballot box. But the box itself is small and the chances to touch the border will remain high,” he added.
The commission should have gone through the process of sufficient pretest before printing ballot papers, he added. “It seems the commission focused on its own convenience rather than the convenience and rights of the voters.”
He indicated another gap in terms of putting the Swastik symbol on the box. During my recent interactions with voters, I found them confused about whether they can put a stamp against the symbol of preferred candidates as symbols are printed where candidates are not contesting, he shared. “Many voters still tend to believe that they need to put a stamp in the open space inside the box that is too congested and the chances of touching border lines remain high.”
Further, what makes the ballot paper confusing is the assignment of an election symbol for position candidates are not contesting. This, observers believe, creates a difficulty for voters of parties in the alliance to find poll symbols and rightly cast the votes.
Santosh Sigdel, an advocate, wrote on Twitter: “There is the possibility that some 30 to 35 percent votes will be turned out to be invalid. It appears completely valid votes will be hovering around 50 percent only. The Election Commission should take responsibility for this. If complete valid votes will be less than 50 percent, it will create a moral question on the validity of the elections.”
Rights activist Hima Bista shares a similar observation. She wrote: “There are some flaws in the ballot paper. I could not do it properly when we did it [mock test] at home. Last two columns (ballots) are especially confusing”.
Ensuring voter turnout at polling stations is one aspect while putting efforts to make their mandates valid is an equally important part of democracy, said Dol Raj Kafle, Associate Professor at Tribhuvan University. “Invalid votes should be a matter of concern for political parties and authorities concerned as this can affect the entire election results in constituencies where candidates have a tough fight.”