Georgia

Review of 2020 parliamentary election PVT confirms numerous discrepancies at polling stations

The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) conducted a review of its parallel vote tabulation (PVT) of the 2020 parliamentary election in Georgia, confirming its finding that at 8% of polling stations the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of voters who voted according to the summary protocols. ISFED’s review additionally found that at 25.8% of polling stations the number of ballots cast was lower than the number of voters recorded in summary protocols. ISFED criticizes DECs for not paying adequate attention to this issue and in a number of cases, the lack of ballots has not been recognized as a violation. Concerns have also been raised over the correction of summary protocols at DECs, which ISFED states were frequently issued without any formal or legal reason. This is a vital issue since summary protocols represent the main legal act that determines the legitimacy of election results.

ISFED's statement below

 

International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) hereby addresses questions of the election administration representatives and election stakeholders concerning the Parallel Vote Tabulation results of the October 31, 2020 parliamentary elections, including imbalance identified in 8% of polling stations.

Following the change in ISFED management, in order to provide thorough answers to questions raised in the society, the organization staff and board members decided re-examine in detail the irregularities identified in summary protocols. To that end, in the first half of January, representatives main and regional offices of ISFEDverified summary protocols and enclosed documents from all polling stations in the PVT sample (850 polling stations), including summary protocols of 25 special polling stations - so-called COVID polling stations and three polling stations set up in correctional facilities.

ISFED subsequently identified summary protocols where the sum of votes received by election subjects and invalid ballots was more than, equal to or less than the overall number of voters that participated in the elections. Within the process, ISFED also analysed enclosed documents (correction protocols, statements and orders). It also compared certified copies of summary protocols provided at the closing of a polling station and summary protocols uploaded on the CEC website.

Complete results of the examination will be published in the final report of the assessment of the 2020 parliamentary elections. In view of high interest of the society, we present information about imbalances found in summary protocols.

ISFED is ready to discuss these issues with any interested party, upon request.

Positive imbalance in summary protocols

„Positive imbalance“ describes a situation in which the number of votes received by election subjects and invalid ballots in the summary protocol are more than the number of signatures of voters that arrived at the polling station on Election Day to cast a ballot[1]. „Positive imbalance“ means that after the ballot box was opened, the number of ballots found inside the box exceeded the number of ballots that should have been issued by the PEC, which means that Election Day and/or vote counting procedures were conducted in violation of the law.

In the process of examination of proportional summary protocols of polling stations, overall, the number of summary protocols with positive imbalance (the number of votes received by election subjects and annulled ballots exceeded the total number of voters that participated in the elections), amounted to 8%. Among them:

  • At 3.6% of polling stations, data were corrected the day after Election Day based on protocols of correction issued in DECs and in following days based on orders issued by DECs;[2]
  • At 1.3% of polling stations, correction protocol and/or order was not issued to explain or correct the positive imbalance in proportional summary protocols; only an explanation was written or the data was corrected in the summary protocol itself;
  • At 0.6% of polling stations, proportional summary protocols were corrected at polling stations under suspicious circumstances, which on the most part means that the data in summary or correction protocols published on the CEC website and the data in certified copy received by ISFED observer do not match and provide a different result;
  • At 1.8% of polling stations, positive imbalance in proportional summary protocols was corrected on Election Day at the polling station, however protocols of correction are faulty; [3]
  • At 0.7% of polling stations, positive imbalance in proportional summary protocols was corrected on Election Day, based on correction protocols prepared at the polling station.

At 46% of polling stations in PVT sample with positive imbalance, ISFED filed complaints in DECs, including complaints requesting recount of votes (at 41% of polling stations).[4] DECs did not satisfy any of the recount requests. Complaints were not examined at 7% of polling stations; at 3% of polling stations the commission did not address in its decision the issue raised in the complaint; at 9% of polling stations, disciplinary sanction was imposed on PEC members concerned. 

Negative imbalance in summary protocols

„Negative imbalance“ describes a situation in which the number of votes received by election subjects and invalid ballots in the summary protocol are less than the number of signatures of voters that arrived at the polling station on Election Day to cast a ballot. „Negative imbalance“ means that after the ballot box was opened, the number of ballots found inside the box was less than the number of ballots that should have been issued by the PEC.

The number of votes received and annulled ballots was less than overall number of voters in proportional summary protocols at 25.8% of polling stations. Among them:

  • At 2.9% of polling stations, negative imbalance was corrected immediately on Election Day or later, based on correction protocols or orders prepared at DEC;[5]
  • At 19.4% of polling stations, correction protocols and/or orders were not prepared to address the imbalance;
  • At 3.5% of polling stations, negative imbalance was corrected based on correction protocols prepared at the polling station on Election Day. Among them, at 1.9% of polling stations, on Election Day, in consideration of the data in correction protocol drawn up at the polling station, balance still could not be reached and the number of received votes and annulled ballots remained less than the overall number of voters.

According to the Election Code, ballot papers are state property. It is prohibited to take ballot papers outside a polling station or to destroy them arbitrarily, on Election Day. [6] Therefore, lack of ballots in proportional summary protocols is possibly connected to offence and their loss has been caused by violation of law by the commission or the voter. Lack of votes may also be caused by taking of a ballot outside a polling station by a voter, intentionally or accidently. However, such cases may not be frequent because the process of placement of the ballot inside the envelope by the voter is controlled by the commission, observers and election subject representatives. To prove that ballots were lost in the process of voting, as opposed to counting, as a result of intentional or negligent actions of commission members, it was necessary to recount votes and restore the actual picture.

Notably, DECs do not pay adequate attention to verification of lack of ballots. In a number of cases, lack of ballots has not been recognized as a violation, even if it concerns loss of dozens of ballots. Due to such different treatment, higher election commission did not pay adequate attention to examination of reasons and consequences of lack of ballots.

Preparation of correction protocols at DECs

Summary protocol is the main legal act that determines legitimacy of elections results. The rule of drawing up and correcting a summary protocol is strictly defined by law. A correction protocol should be prepared by a precinct election commission, immediately after a mistake is made in a summary protocol, and an inscription ‘corrected’ shall immediately be put alongside the respective data in a summary protocol. In addition, correction protocol should be verified by the PEC seal and recorded in the logbook.[7]

Article 26 of the Election Code allows issuance of a correction protocol by a precinct election commission at the district election commission on the day after Election Day if corresponding legal and factual circumstances exist. However, this is allowed on as needed basis, not as a common practice, and only when explanations of relevant PEC members and/or other legal and factual reasons exist.

Therefore, based on relevant norms of the Election Code, this mechanism exists in order to correct in the process of drawing up a summary protocol any mechanical errors and/or such errors that the PEC is already aware of in the process of filling out the main protocol. With the same logic, if the commission is aware of the error, it should be corrected immediately, at the polling station. Therefore, it is not the purpose of this mechanism to correct any of the data after the protocol is already filled out, in order to address any discrepancies.

Contrary to the above, correction protocols were a common practice at district commissions and frequently they were issued without any formal or legal reason. ISFED believes that the practice of drawing up of correction protocols at DECs fell short of the standard of credibility. In particular, frequently data in summary protocols were corrected by correction protocols prepared at DECs, without recount, written and/or oral explanation, which is insufficient for correcting data.

Correction of summary protocols based on DEC order

DEC order is an individual administrative legal act, adopted/issued in cases prescribed by and within the scope of the Election Code and the CEC resolution.[8] The primary way of correcting a mistake in a summary protocol is preparing a protocol of correction. Its use however is limited in time and it may not be drawn up later than the day after Election Day. After this deadline, discrepancies in summary protocols were corrected with DEC orders, which were based on verification of voting results or, on the most part, explanations of PEC members.[9]

Notably, in the process of verification of summary protocols, DECs failed to adequately ensure effective control of abidance by law by lower-level commissions. Moreover, the following trend was identified: PEC members were summoned to DEC to prepare explanations, which was then used as the main basis of DEC orders. Notably, often such documents were signed by the author only and they lacked requisites place, date and seal. These requisites are necessary in order to precisely establish validity and legitimate goal of these explanations.

Analysis of orders issued in connection to PVT polling stations has shown that these orders are ill-founded and they have been issued without thorough examination of circumstances of the case. Similar to correction protocols, in most cases DECs relied on statements of election commission members. Such orders fall short of the standard established by law for substantiating an administrative legal act.

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[1] The number indicated in the fourth box of a summary protocol – „Number of voter signatures that participated in the elections in all types of lists.“
[2] At 2.9% of polling stations, summary protocols were balanced; at 0.7% of polling stations, summary protocols were not balanced. At one polling station, data in the summary protocol was corrected as a result of recount;
[3] Including: some protocols are missing the seal; some are drawn up using the document intended for majoritarian elections; corrected data is inserted in the wrong box; corrected data is crossed out/written over; corrections are not indicated; commission seal, date and/or time is wrong; actual signature of a commission member, who is signing the correction protocol is missing; empty boxes have not been filled out by X; balance was not reached and negative balance was recorded;
[4] In several precincts, more than one complaint was filed. On and after Election Day, the organization filed over 350 complaints, including up to 135 complaints in connection to summary protocols in up to 160 polling stations, requesting full or partial verification of polling results, invalidation of three mobile ballot boxes and imposition of sanction on relevant commission members. This number entails polling stations in the PVT sample, as well as outside the sample.   
[5] Among them, at 1.6% of polling stations, summary protocols were balanced; at 1.3% of polling stations, negative misbalance still remained;
[6] The organic law of Georgia „the Election Code of Georgia“, article 63.
[7] Organic law of Georgia „the Election Code of Georgia“, Article 70
[8] Organic law of Georgia „the Election Code of Georgia“, Articles 30.1.b, 30.4.
[9] DECs issued orders concerning the balance at 1.9% of polling stations. Among them, at 1.1% of polling stations, data in summary protocols was corrected following recount of results, and at 0.8% of polling results, data in summary protocols was corrected based on verbal or written explanations.

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