Thursday, August 20, 2020

Anatomy of election fraud: How manual counting abetted poll-rigging in Belarus


Kommersant Photo / Polaris/Newscom
Kommersant Photo / Polaris/Newscom

In a massive outpouring of indignation, hundreds of thousands of protesters have occupied the streets of Belarus demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, who was recently elected for a sixth term in an election tainted by allegations of rigging.

Yet even as the high-stakes political drama plays out before the watchful eyes of the world, the nuts and bolts of how the alleged rigging was executed is likewise worthy of investigation.

The European Union has already rejected the results of the elections and is set to impose sanctions. Steffen Seibert, German Federal Government’s Press and Information Officer, declared that the minimum standards for democratic elections were not observed during the vote and believes the claims of the opposition about election fraud.

The Belarus election fraud debacle throws into sharp focus the inherent vulnerability of hand-counted elections to manipulation and the damage it brings to the integrity of the whole electoral process. Add this to the fact that manual elections are notorious for its lack of mechanisms to audit the results and you have a perfect storm for massive electoral fraud.

Ihar Barsuk, who served as a precinct election commission during the presidential election, revealed exactly how fraud was committed in his precinct. “According to my calculations, Lukashenka received about 10% of the vote. I do not remember the details but about 9-10% were stolen from opposition candidates. Just like that, in front of the entire commission and observers,” said Barsuk. Barsuk went on to say that commission members did not get to sign most of ballot papers, which raises serious questions on the chain of custody. But the major violations took place after the vote count where, according to Barsuk, his numbers “were very different to the results voiced by chairman of the commission.”

Outraged, Barsuk requested for a recount which the Commission granted. The recount revealed the discrepancy between Barsuk’s count and that of the chairman, which prompted correction of the official count. Barsuk made sure to document the attempted fraud by writing a note in the final protocol.

An election observer stationed in a Minsk precinct, Zmicier Sauka describes how the elections at his station were rigged. He claimed that 13 of the 15 observers were from the Belarusian Republican Youth Union and similar government organizations, precluding an independent observation of the proceedings.

Also, Sauka observed how he counted 710 people drop ballots in but was surprised to see the official tally at 1,046 voters, noting the difference of 336 “pseudovotes.” Worse, he noted that early voting votes for opposition candidate Karatkevich, which totaled 36, were not counted in the official tally which only reflected the in-person votes.

He believes that one person was enough to perpetuate election fraud in the precinct and laid the blame on the commission chair – the head teacher of secondary school 28 in Minsk.

The same fatal flaws of manual elections made evident in Belarus has provided the impetus for a growing number of countries to modernize their electoral processes and adopt automated election systems in one form or another. It remains to be seen how the Belarus will resolve the political upheaval. Either way, the international community is expected to put more and more pressure on the landlocked Eastern European country to fix its broken election system.