Iraq Election Monitors Review Suspicious Votes
Election monitors are taking a look at some districts where the “Yes” vote on the Iraqi constitution exceeded 90 percent.
Iraqi election officials said Monday that they were investigating “unusually high” vote totals in 12 Shiite and Kurdish provinces, where as many as 99 percent of the voters were reported to have cast ballots in favor of Iraq’s new constitution. The investigation raised the possibility that the results of the referendum could be called into question.
In a statement on Monday evening, the Independent Election Commission of Iraq said the results of the referendum on Saturday would have to be delayed “a few days” because the apparently high number of “yes” votes required election workers to “recheck, compare and audit” the results. The statement made no mention of the possibility of fraud, but said results were being re-examined to comply with internationally accepted standards. Election officials say that under those standards, voting procedures should be re-examined anytime a candidate or a ballot question got more than 90 percent of the vote.
Members of the commission declined to give any details. But one official with knowledge of the balloting said the 12 provinces where the “yes” votes exceeded 90 percent all had populations that were majority Shiite or Kurdish. Leaders from those communities strongly endorsed the proposed constitution. Some of the provinces, the official said, reported that 99 percent of the ballots counted were cast in favor of the constitution.
It is difficult to imagine why any Shiite or Kurdish political leaders would resort to fraud. Together the two groups make up about 80 percent of Iraq’s population. None of the provinces cited for a closer look had Sunni majorities, the official said, although there were reports of similarly lopsided votes against the constitution in some Sunni areas. There are 3 Sunni majority provinces, of a total of 18. “When you find consistently very, very high numbers, then that is cause for further checking,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Anything over 90 percent either way usually leads to further investigation.”
Aside from the announcement, the results of the referendum began to come into focus. About 10 million Iraqis cast ballots, or about 64 percent of registered voters, said Barham Salih, the minister for planning. Preliminary results, he said, show the constitution appears to have been approved by about 65 percent of those voting. But now those totals are being questioned.
The announcement on Monday seemed likely to feed doubts among many Iraqi voters, especially Sunnis, many of whom are deeply suspicious of the Shiite majority and of the Kurds. Such tensions could inhibit the delicate effort now under way to woo the Sunnis, many of whom have joined the insurgency, into the democratic process.
The figures do strike me as unusually high and certainly merit investigation. It wouldn’t shock me if there were some ballot stuffing, given Iraq’s history of sham elections.
Still, there was never much doubt that the referendum would draw overwhelming support in the Shia and Kurdish regions and get a majority overall; the only question was whether there would be a sufficient number of Sunni provinces voting against to kill it anyway. Election fraud would certainly taint the process but it seems unlikely to have altered the outcome.
The AP’s account adds important clarification:
A sandstorm that had closed Baghdad’s airport cleared Tuesday, allowing officials to resume flying ballot boxes to the capital Tuesday so “unusually high” vote totals in 12 Shiite and Kurdish provinces can be checked by election officials. The investigation by Iraq’s election commission has raised the possibility that the results of the referendum could be called into question. As many as 99 percent of the voters reportedly approved Iraq’s draft constitution in some of the provinces being investigated.
Adil al-Lami, head of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that ballot boxes were arriving from the provinces and that employees had resumed counting. “If we suspect that the numbers are higher or lower than we expected, we have to double-check them, and this audit means it might be several more days before we announce the final outcome,” he said. “We are not concerned whether the outcome is `yes’ or `no.’ We are only interested in making the process technically a success.” He said the commission is “a neutral body” acting “as a referee.”
Two provinces that are crucial to the results — Ninevah and Diyala, which have mixed Sunni, Shiite and Kurd populations — were not among those that appeared unusual.
But the official with knowledge of the counting process said the unexpected results were not isolated to the Shiite and Kurdish provinces and were “all around the country.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the count.
Sunni opponents needed to win over either Diyala or Ninevah to veto the constitution. Sunnis had to get a two-thirds “no” vote in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces to defeat the charter, and they appeared to have gotten it in western Anbar and central Salahuddin, both heavily Sunni. Ninevah and Diyala are each believed to have a slight Sunni Arab majority. But results reported by provincial electoral officials showed startlingly powerful “yes” votes of up to 70 percent in each.
Allegations of fraud in those areas could throw into question the final outcome. But questions of whether the reported strong “yes” vote there is unusual are complicated by the fact that Iraq has not had a proper census in some 15 years, meaning the sectarian balance is not firmly known.
It’s way too early to start screaming “fraud.”