Palestinian Election Committee Moves to Prevent Voting Fraud

The Palestinian Central Elections Committee (CEC) has taken a number of steps to prevent fraud or claims of fraud in this Sunday's Palestinian Authority presidential elections. The move comes as a lesson learned from the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, in which suspicions of fraud were aired.

The 2,800 ballot boxes, imported from Denmark, are partially transparent so they can be seen to be empty before voting starts. Another reason for their partial transparency, according to Dr. Hanna Nasser, head of the CEC, is to reassure Israeli soldiers at checkpoints that they contain only paper. The boxes are, however, opaque enough to ensure that the writing on the ballots, which will not be enclosed in envelopes, cannot be seen.

After comparing the names on the list of eligible voters with identity numbers, dates of birth and double listings, the CEC dropped 20,000 double entries from the list to avoid double voting.

Out of 1.7 million Palestinians eligible to vote, 1.1 million registered during September 2004. Women comprise 46 percent of registered voters.

After the death of Yasser Arafat, the list was reopened, but the number of those registering was small. It was decided therefore that those who had not registered would still be allowed to participate in Sunday's voting. For these 600,000 people, 70 separate voting stations will open. Those in the West Bank are located in places where voters will not have to cross Israeli checkpoints to reach them.

Eligibility to vote at these stations will be determined by whether the individual's name appears on the population registry. After deleting the names appearing more than once on this list, the CEC distributed it to the 70 special polling stations.

Approximately 21,000 observers will be present at the 1,000 polling stations to help ensure the fairness of the elections. Most of the observers are Palestinian; some 12,000 are representatives of political parties, and 7,000, of non-governmental organizations. Approximately 800 foreign observers will also be present, in addition to a number of independent observers.

Foreign observers are to ensure that in Hebron's old city and East Jerusalem, Palestinians will not be harmed when they come to vote.

The candidates, especially in the more organized parties, will count the ballots themselves before the ballot boxes are removed from the polling stations.

The printing of the ballots in Spain on paper not available locally is another means of avoiding fraud. The results from every polling station will be sent immediately to Ramallah, and no ballot boxes will be left at polling stations overnight or unguarded.

In order to avoid double voting, the voter's thumb will be stamped with an ink-print indelible for 48 hours.

Nasser told Haaretz that his greatest concern was that Israel Defense Forces soldiers would interfere with the elections. He said he would have no control over such an eventuality, as he did over the fairness of the election process. "It is enough for the IDF to close off one area for people to suspect that the results are not correct," he said.

Nasser said the Palestinians had been assured by Israel that East Jerusalem residents who voted would not lose their residency status.

A source in the CEC said if the elections were disrupted in Jerusalem, for example by a strike at the post office polling station, voting would be called off throughout the Palestinian Authority. "There will be no elections without Jerusalem," the source said.