Dechen Dolkar

Approximately 8,900 postal ballots were declared invalid or not counted out of the total 126,360 postal ballots dispatched for the recent primary round of National Assembly elections in Bhutan.

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) designated 25 percent of the total eligible voters as postal voters, with 126,360 eligible voters registered for postal voting. This included 124,273 in-country and 2,087 overseas postal voters. However, only 117,443 postal ballots were counted across 47 constituencies during the primary round of elections.

This indicates that 8,917 postal ballots were either rejected or postal voters chose not to vote.

The exact figures for the total rejected postal ballots, however, were unavailable, as returning officers and the ECB declined to share the information.

Returning officers say that the figures have already been submitted to the Commission, while the Commission claims not to have received them.

An official said that out of the 8,917 postal ballots deemed invalid, some voters may not have sent back the postal ballots to returning officers, and some postal ballots might have been rejected.

It was learned that a significant number of postal ballots get rejected during the opening of envelope A. Returning officers open envelope A a day ahead of the poll day; envelope B is opened on the poll day.

It has been found that a considerable number of postal ballots were rejected from students due to a lack of voter education.

For instance, in the Gangzur-Minjey constituency, 82 postal ballots were rejected, 96 postal ballots were rejected in Maenbi-Tsaenkhar constituency in Lhuentse.

Similarly, 56 postal ballots were rejected in Kilkhorthang-Mendrelgang constituency, and 44 postal ballots were rejected in Sergithang-Tsirang constituency in Tsirang.

Out of the 2,322 postal ballots received, 54 were rejected in Kabji-Talog, and 94 postal ballots were rejected in Lingmukha-Toedwang constituency in Punakha.

In North Thimphu constituency, 19 postal ballots were rejected; South Thimphu constituency, 36 postal ballots were rejected.

Nine postal ballots were rejected out of the 163 postal ballots received in Khamaed-Lunana.


Reasons for rejection

According to the postal ballot rules and regulations, returning officer, upon opening envelope A, first ensure that the identity declaration certificate (IDC) has been duly signed and authenticated. If not satisfied, he or she will mark on the certificate “declaration rejected,” and attach it to envelope B or, if there is no such envelope, place it in the receptacle for rejected ballots.

Election officers said that envelope A is rejected if an individual has signed both the voter’s declaration and the competent witness while completing the IDC within envelope A. The envelope A gets rejected because of the absence of citizenship card numbers in the IDC for either the voter or competent witness, mentioning the competent witness’s name without the corresponding signature and the citizenship card number in the IDC.

Additionally, envelope A is rejected if the name of a political party is indicated instead of the constituency in the IDC.

A postal ballot will be accepted if the voter provides the citizenship identity card number, even if the name is not reflected in envelope A. A postal ballot is also 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.

According to postal ballot rules and regulations, the ballot will be invalid if it is a fake ballot paper, blank, does not contain the mark “accepted” as endorsed by the returning officer on Envelope B, cannot be definitively determined for which candidate or political party the vote is cast, has been cast for more than one candidate or political party, bears a mark of identification different from the one officially provided (tick with a pen or tick with the provided seal), and has been tampered with or is so damaged or mutilated that its identity as a genuine ballot paper cannot be established.

In the 2018 NA elections primary round, of the 110,538 postal ballots received, 1,234 postal ballots were rejected during the opening of Envelope A and 724 ballots were declared invalid while opening envelope B.

In the 2013 primary elections, of the total 38,959 postal ballots received 1,016 were declared invalid.