Reports of polling irregularities in referendum

Various cases of polling irregularities in the August referendum have been reported to the Prachatai referendum watch centre. A referendum watchdog coordinator said the irregularities were due to the election commission’s failure to facilitate the referendum.  
 
On 1 August Prachatai, in cooperation with six organizations including Thai Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism (TCIJ), Thai Publica, iLaw, the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies of Mahidol University (IHRP), the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) and We Watch, set up a referendum monitoring centre.
 
On 7 August, people across Thailand reported more than 10 cases of irregularity to the centre. Here are five.

Officials try to count ballots before polls close

 
Officials at a polling station in Phai Subdistrict, Mueang District, in the northeastern province of Kalasin, reportedly wanted to start counting ballots before 4 pm, the time that polling stations across Thailand sere to close. The officials reasoned that no one else would come to vote as it was already close to 4 pm. 
 
However, after local people who were monitoring the station objected, the officials decided to start counting at 4 pm as planned. 

Police bar voters from taking photos of polling stations 

 
Police officers who were appointed to secure polling stations in Mukdahan and Bangkok prohibited people from taking photos of the ballot counting process though they stood outside the stations. The authorities asked to people to show them their ID cards before allowing them to take photos.
 
This is despite the fact that Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, a commissioner of Election Commission of Thailand (ECT), said on 2 August that it is legal for people to take photos of polling stations as long as they stand outside the station. Somchai even encouraged voters to help prevent referendum fraud by recording the ballot counting process and posting it online.  

Officials count ballots away from polling station

 
Local officials in the eastern province of Chachoengsao moved all ballot boxes in the sixth constituency of Khlong Khuean District to a local city hall and started counting the votes there. This is obviously irregular since vote counting must be done at polling places so local people can monitor the whole process.

No ID card, fingerprints checked

 
Local ECT officials at polling stations in Bangkok and Nonthaburi did not check the ID cards and fingerprints of voters before they entered the polling booths. 
 

Different ballot boxes 

 
Ballot boxes across the country were different. Although most boxes, as were recently presented to the media by the ECT, were translucent, some polling stations used either metal or paper boxes. Some of these boxes were opaque so voters could not check if there were any ballots inside before polling started.   
 
Other irregularities reported to the Prachatai referendum watch centre included the presence of fully armed soldiers in polling stations in the restive Deep South of Thailand and many cases of miscounting ballots.
 
Chompunut Chalieobun, Co-ordinator of We Watch, an organization that sent young people to monitor polling stations across the country, told Prachatai that all polling irregularities were due to the ECT’s failure to effectively facilitate the referendum. She said that the ECT did not perform well in campaigning and educating people about the draft and the referendum process, adding that it is justifiable to say that this referendum was not “free and fair.” 
 
“The volunteers reported that people lacked understanding, people were scared to debate or talk about the draft, and a lot of people didn’t know what it [the referendum] was for” said Chompunut. “Some people thought they had to accept the constitution so that elections can be soon, but they don’t know how the constitution will affect the whole country in the long run.”
 
Chompunut added that the ECT also failed to train its polling officials to run the referendum properly. The irregularities which had been found all day long were due to officials’ lack of understanding of the polling process. 
 
“I don’t want to blame individuals but I would blame the whole process. I think the polling officers did not get enough training. There were no observers so maybe they thought they could just do anything, no one was keeping an eye on anything,” Chompunut stated. 
 
 
A soldier talks to police officer at a polling station in the central province of Chonburi (Photo from local reporter)
 
 
An armed soldier stands in a polling booth in the Deep South province of Pattani (Source: We Watch Facebook page
 
 
An opaque metal polling box in a polling station in Bangkok (Source: We Watch Facebook page)