Final assessment of the 21 October Local Self-Government Elections
At this point, from our observation, we can say that the 2017 local self-government elections were held in a largely peaceful environment, without serious incidents. Nevertheless, the election day showed a new problematic trend related to the control over the free expression of the will of voters.
Our observers reported up to 160 insignificant and relatively serious violations. Nearly ⅔ of the registered complaints related to the recording of voter data in the precinct buildings. In total, we filed 114 complaints, 106 of which relate to illegal recording of voter data.
A few notable violations:
Control over the free expression of will
These elections have showed a very alarming trend related to attempts to exert disproportionate influence over the free expression of will of the voters. This was evident nearly in all our monitored precincts, where representatives of electoral subjects stood over the registrators and took notes of the unique voter list number from the list of voters. During the previous elections, voters were recorded outside the precincts, however during these elections this process shifted to the polling station. The representatives of the Georgian Dream and Leftist Alliance are the most active in this regard.
According to the statement by the Central Election Commission, this is not a violation. However, we do not agree with this assessment. An observer has the right to monitor the voting process, but does not have the right to record personal data of voters from the voters list and hinder the registration process.
Throughout the day, we called upon the Central Election Commission to put an end to this practice. Moreover, the Office of the Personal Data Protection Inspector issued a statement on this matter.
According to Article 31 (11) of the Electoral Code of Georgia, there is a version of the unified list of voters designated for public information, which does not include identification numbers and photos. This data is, however, present in the table list (version designated for the election commission) and it is protected from full disclosure by the Law of Georgia on Personal Data Protection.
Article 41 of the Electoral Code guarantees the right of observers to attend and observe the electoral process. Nevertheless, this monitoring should not include the recording/processing of identification data of voters who arrived to the precinct in a manner that would allow access to their personal data. Moreover, access to such information could be used for voter intimidation purposes. During the election day, the representatives of parties stood over the registrators and had the ability to write down the personal information/identification numbers of voters. This can be interpreted as interference in the work of the commission. According to the Law of Georgia on Personal Data Protection, it is prohibited to gather/process personal data without a legitimate reason. We firmly believe that recording information on voter turnout at precincts cannot be considered as a legitimate reason.
Low qualifications of members of the precinct electoral commissions
As it was the case during previous elections, we observed that a lot of members of PECs lacked necessary qualifications, which in turn resulted in aggressive and unconstructive behavior on their part. Moreover, the unconvincing behavior of the members of PECs caused confusion at the polling stations. There are serious concerns with the qualifications of the members of the PECs and no significant progress has been made in this regard over the years. Apparently, traditional training methods are not effective for the commission members.
Some PECs were unable to handle rudimentary tasks, such as protecting the secrecy of ballot, admitting observers without interference to the precinct, filling out the control sheet, dividing responsibilities by casting of lots, etc.
Problems with registration of complaints
Particularly alarming were instances when the commission chairpersons and secretaries hindered our observers from the filing of complaints. In spite of the fact that the commission secretaries are obliged to register complaints when they are duly filed in, they sometimes refused to do so. There were such issues at 15 precincts. In two precincts, our complaints related to the control of voter lists were registered in spite of initially being declined. Nevertheless, the complaints were not considered, which is a violation of the law.
Interference/intimidation against our observers
It is imperative for observers from monitoring organizations to have the necessary conditions for their work. During the election day, there were instances of intimidation and verbal insults against our observers from the commission members. In Chugureti, our mobile group head was ejected without basis from the precinct by the commission chairperson.
Interfering in journalistic activities
There was one case of interference in journalistic activities. A group of individuals, who were loitering around the territory of the precinct, verbally and physically insulted Dato Gamisonia, an editor for Liberali.
The Central Election Commission should revise its decision regarding the illegal recording of data from the table voter lists. It is not acceptable for personal data of voters to be public and used a tool for intimidation;
The Central Election Commission should take appropriate measures in regard to the low qualification of the commission members;
The Central Election Commision should ensure favourable conditions for observers and prevent any aggressive behavior by the commission members;
The police should start an investigation into the interference into the journalistic work of Dato Gamisonia, an editor for Liberali;
The Personal Data Protection Inspector should investigate the mass gathering of personal information and take appropriate measures;
Political parties should refrain from recording the turnout of their supporters and from using mobilization methods that could be considered as a suppression of the free expression of will.