…same simple errors persist leading to rejection of ballots 

Thukten Zangpo

Returning officers across the country have rejected a significant number of postal ballots in the ongoing primary round of the fourth National Assembly elections for the year 2023-24. 

The rejections came after the opening of envelope A on November 28, with postal ballot counting scheduled to continue today after the extension of the postal ballot receipt deadline to noon today. 

According to the returning officers (ROs), the predominant reason for rejections was the identical individual signing both the voter’s declaration and the competent witness while completing the identity declaration certificate (IDC) within envelope A. It is noteworthy that envelope B contains the actual ballot paper.

ROs also documented instances where witnesses were either unregistered voters or underage. Simultaneously, discrepancies were noted between the constituency address on the IDC and the corresponding ballot paper.

As per the instructions set by the Election Commission of Bhutan, a postal ballot is deemed acceptable if the voter provides the citizenship identity card number, even if the name is omitted. Likewise, a postal ballot is accepted if the voter includes the citizenship identity card number and the voter’s signature in the IDC without specifying the voter’s name. Similarly, the ballot is deemed valid if the citizenship card number of the competent witness is provided without specifying the name and signature.

Conversely, a postal ballot is rejected under various circumstances. These include the absence of citizenship card numbers in the IDC for either the voter or competent witness, the mentioning of the competent witness’s name without the corresponding signature and citizenship card number in the IDC, and the scenario where the same person signs the declaration for both the voter and competent witness in the IDC. Additionally, if the name of a political party is indicated instead of the constituency or Demkhong in the IDC, the postal ballot is also rejected.

Several constituencies reported varying numbers of rejected postal ballots. The South Thimphu constituency in Thimphu saw 35 rejections out of 1,133 received, while North Thimphu reported 16 rejections out of 778 postal ballots. 

The Kabji-Talo constituency’s office of the returning officer in Punakha recorded 51 rejections out of 2,171 received by 5 pm on the previous day, with only 11 overseas postal ballots out of 70 registered being received.

In Lingmukha-Toedwang, Punakha, 88 out of 1,690 received postal ballots were rejected, and only seven of the 29 dispatched overseas were received by 5 pm on the previous day. 

In Nubi-Tangsibji constituency in Trongsa, three postal ballots were rejected, while Drakteng-Langthel saw 29 rejections. The office of the returning officer in Lamgong-Wangchang constituency in Paro rejected 64 out of 1,692 received postal ballots, with counting to continue tomorrow.

Meanwhile, in Nganglam constituency in Pemagatshel, the office of the returning officer received 2,534 postal ballots out of 2,673 dispatched. However, the office is yet to resolve a few cases of verification and punching of IDC, set to take place early tomorrow in the presence of party representatives.

In Gasa, Khatoed Laya constituency rejected 10 out of 126 postal ballots received while Khamaed-Lunana rejected nine out 160 postal ballots received, including one from overseas. 

In Wangduephodrang, the Athang-Thedtsho constituency received 2,304 postal ballots in-country out of 2,414 dispatched, and 14 received out of 63 dispatched from overseas. The Nyishog-Saephu constituency received 2,061 out of 2,122 dispatched in-country and 21 out of 93 dispatched from overseas as of the previous day.

For the National Assembly elections 2023-24, 497,058 voters are registered on the electoral roll. Of these, 370,698 are electronic voting machine (EVM) voters, comprising 192,726 females and 177,972 males. The e-roll also includes 126,360 eligible voters registered as postal voters, with 124,273 in-country and 2,087 overseas postal voters.