Allaying rumours that the voting machinery could be tampered, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has reiterated that with stringent measures in place, such manipulations are impossible.

A rumour that has started doing the rounds is that some people are reportedly collecting citizenship identify card (CID) details of the voters telling them that by entering the CID details in computers, it would be known who they voted for. Should it be found that the certain individual has not voted for the said party, the voter and his or her family in villages will not benefit from the plans and policies of the party that would form the government.

Chief Election Commissioner Chogyal Dago Rigdzin said that through a series of voter education and civic education programmes and activities in non-election period, ECB has persistently engaged in public discourse on importance of democracy, dialogue and participation.

“In particular, we have been all along assuring our voters about the secrecy of their votes, be it cast through postal ballots or EVM,” Chogyal Dago Rigdzin told Kuensel. Our voters may be illiterate but not ignorant. Having participated in two cycles of Parliamentary elections, two rounds of local government elections and numerous bye-elections, they know that the secrecy of their vote is guaranteed.”

The ECB spokesperson and head of election department, Sonam Tobgyal said the commission conducts voter education to create awareness among people on the electoral process and on the secrecy of their votes.  “Rumours such as these are spread by those who are not aware about the electoral process,” he said.

“Our appeal to the voters is to come to us if they have doubts. We are always there to clarify and explain.”

He said international observers have reported Bhutan’s electoral process to be free and fair. The EVM, he said are stand alone devices with no Bluetooth or wifi connections or slots to inserts chips. “There are no loopholes in our system,” he said.

The commission’s strategy for the conduct of the national assembly elections, 2018, states: “The security of an EVM shall be given top priority at all times and an EVM should not be left unattended, uncared or left with a person who is not an election official appointed by a competent authority under any circumstance.”

The commission has set up 865 polling stations across the country for the national assembly elections. Each polling station is equipped with two EVMs. The commission has already distributed 1,000 new EVMs it procured to the election officials. The existing EVMs are used as back up at the polling stations.

Sonam Tobgyal said that a series of tests and checks are done to ensure that the EVMs are secure and functional. After the ECB tests and dispatches the devices, the dzongkhag election officials also test the device before handing it over to the returning officers.

He said that on poll day, all presiding officers again check the EVMs and conduct a mock poll at 8am in the presence of polling officials and party representatives. The device’s count is set to zero and the EVMs sealed. “The party representatives counter sign the form,” he said. In case the EVMs dysfunction, the backup is used. The seal on the dysfunctional EVM is broken only when the counting process begins.

Election officials said they have always informed the party representatives to observe the postal ballot sorting processes. The commission has also deployed security personnel to escort the transportation of the ballots to Bhutan Post offices and asked party representatives to be at the post offices. “This is to ensure transparency and to make them see how the ballots are sorted and handed over to the returning officers,” Sonam Tobgyal said.

On September 11, the election commission wrote to all four parties thanking them for deputing representatives to observe and witness the various stages of handling postal ballot materials, including issuance of the ballots and dispatch from the facilitation booths when transported by Bhutan Post to various post offices in the country.

“As requested earlier, we would like to further request you to appoint and send party representatives to the respective post offices in the dzongkhags for witnessing the process of receiving and delivering Postal Ballot Envelop A to the returning officer,” the commission’s letter states.

In the past, when they were asked to observe the process, some party representatives told election officials that they trust the ECB.

Sonam Pelden