On April 2, the Armenian electorate will, for the first time, cast their ballots through an absolutely new system. In the experts’ opinion, a new voting procedure is not only incomprehensible and confusing, but also too complicated.
It took the lawmakers months to elaborate the Electoral Code, so as to hold the April parliamentary election in a fair and transparent manner and without any violations. After the lengthy debates and talks, the authorities and opposition members finally reached a consensus and passed it. Whereas now, the opposition and the civil society figures claim that on the election day, people will get confused at the polling stations, not knowing whom to vote for, how and in what order.
Civil society’s opinion
According to Eriknaz Tigranyan, a consultant at Transparency International anti-corruption center, the voters should be cautious with the documents handed over to them:
“How should one vote? I’m afraid, many voters will make a mistake. First of all, they should mind that they can’t mark up the first page of a ballot paper, since in this case, the elector’s vote will be made void. However, if even the smallest mark on the ballot paper’s first page makes it void, any marks on the second page, on the contrary, won’t result in counting it as invalid. In this case, the elector’s vote will simply go to a party, rather than to a candidate.
Voters may even get confused about how to put the ballot paper in the envelope, without finding out whether it should be folded or not. They will probably find it difficult to decide on what to do with unused ballot papers: whether they should be taken home as a souvenir, be cast into a waste bin or produced as an evidence of fulfilled order to a person who has given a bribe for this vote. And if this time the major stakes are placed on vote-buying, this method can actually work.”
Eriknaz Tigranyan’s opinion, all those problems could have surfaced provided that a new voting method had undergone the pilot program ‘testing’. However, despite the government officials’ assurance that the new system would be tried out in advance in course of the local government election, this actually never happened. Voter identification devices were tested only in Armenia’s 2 small communities–in Vardashen and Semenovka, which doesn’t imply checking consistency of the whole voting procedure.
Upon a closer look at the law, one will no longer have an impression that it’s a complex process. Simply earlier the elections were conducted without using technical devices and registration of fingerprints. Therefore, it seems that the number of ‘chain’ links have increased, making the whole process even more complicated. That’s the opinion of Vahram Mkrtchyan, an MP from the Armenian Republican Party faction. He assures that each member of the Commission will explain a new procedure to a voter and it’s unlikely that there be any problems in this case. And if a person goes to the polls, it means that he/she is aware and realizes the importance of elections and won’t get confused:
“Alongside the commission members, there will be also experts in charge of technical equipment at the polling stations. They will enter the voters’ passport data into the personal identification device and if it happens so that those experts violate the legal course of ballot (e.g. let one and the same person cast his/her ballot twice), they will be held administratively liable.
As for preliminary testing of this voting procedure, it hasn’t been done due to the failure to settle the equipment funding issue. But let me assure you that the seamy side of the process doesn’t lie in technical devices.”
Vahram Mkrtchyan doesn’t think it as a problem if citizens take unused ballot papers from the polling stations. The ballot papers at electors’ hand are worthless and there is no way they could be used.
Mane Tandilyan, an MP candidate from the Yelk bloc (translated as ‘Way Out’), shares the opinion that the new system is complex and confusing, and that the voters may really have problem understanding the whole process.
“There are people, who meet me just to find out how to vote: can they choose one candidate or none of the candidates, how they will get several documents at once and what does it mean to throw away an unused ballot paper…
I think, it’s exactly the lack of awareness that will result in a huge number of invalid ballots. We should raise public awareness, explain what will happen at the polling stations on the election day by many interesting ways: flashmobs, campaigns, meetings, through social media, video clips, and other means. I would like to emphasize that if there had been the piloting precedent, all technical drawbacks would have been identified in advance, and there would have been enough time to rectify them.”
Mane Tandilyan disagrees with the opinion that if a voter goes for polls, he/she is so well-prepared that he/she won’t get lost in a complicated electoral procedure. And if a person comes to fulfill his/her civic duty, it doesn’t necessarily imply that he/she is familiar with all provisions of the electoral process.
The National Assembly (Parliament) elections will held in Armenia on April 2. After the elections, the country will move from the semi-presidential onto the parliamentary system of government. On the election day, the voters are expected to cast their ballots for a preferable party or a particular candidate from the party list, introduced at the polling station.