Early voting: coercion, exaggerations and pressure on observers
During the first two days of the early voting campaign in the elections to the local councils, observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" documented numerous and diverse violations: there were facts of coercion to vote early, inflating the number of voters, and instances of pressure on the observers.
Cases of coercion to participate in early voting have been registered in many places of Belarus. In particular, according to PEC No. 35, which is situated in the Kastrychnitski district of Vitsebsk, more than 11 % of the registered voters cast their ballots on the first day of voting alone.
Many government agencies held meetings where employees were encouraged to vote early. For example, in Hlybokaye administrative resource was used by the management of local post-office, road maintenance department, dairy factory, and meat-processing plant. Employees of the Interior Ministry’s Department "Akhova", the district police department and penal colony No. 13 were ordered to vote early. The managers of Kanstantsinau Dvor Ltd. ordered to vote early, as a result of which 66 people voted at polling station No. 20 in just one day.
296 students of Mazyr State Medical College, which houses PEC No. 32, voted during one day.
Likewise, their "duty" was carried out by 139 students of the Skaryna Homel State University living in the dormitory located in the territory of polling station No. 29. One of the students said after arriving at the polling station that they were told to vote early (she had problems with registration, and she could not receive a ballot).
In Vitsebsk, two female voters had to justify themselves before the election commission members for coming to vote early under duress of their employer. At the same polling station, a female voter received two ballots from PEC 39 Chairperson of Pershamaiski district of Vitsebsk Natallia Reinbakh. The voter put her marks right on the commission’s table, without going into the voting booth, and went to the box. However, she failed to cast them at once because the slot in the box turned out to be too thick for two ballots.
According to PEC No. 164 in Mahiliou, 104 voters cast their ballots on March 18. The polling station was located in a vocational school with a nearby dormitory. The students were allowed to leave classes to participate in early voting.
Coercion was registered at a local college, where students living in dormitories were forced to vote early. The polling station (PEC No. 12) is located in the college building. Its dormitory is situated nearby.
73 people voted on March 18 at the polling station located in the dormitory of the factory "Strommashina" in Mahiliou (PEC No. 3). Two more dormitories are located nearby. The Commission included workers of the factory and those employed in the dormitories. People living in the dormitories were forced to vote early, while the officials reported on those who failed to go to the polls.
Observers quote a conversation with voters documented at PEC No. 21 in Salihorsk who were sent to vote during working days.
In Biaroza, Brest region, 68 people voted early, as reported by PEC No. 5. On March 18, the Biaroza District Executive Committee Chairman Yury Narkevich met with managers of local state-owned enterprises and urged them to ensure the participation of their employees in the early voting campaign.
Observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" also stress significant overestimation of the amount of votes.
In Homel’s PEC No. 8 observers report 11 votes cast on March 19, and according to estimates of the commission members, there were 112 voters. The situation is similar to PEC No. 9: the official data claim 121 votes, which does not correspond to the number of voters registered by the observers (13 votes). There is a deliberate increase in the percentage of voters.
At polling station No. 58 located in the Pershamaiski district of Vitsebsk, the number of ballots in the transparent box significantly increased after the lunch break: observers estimates said 36 voters voted there, while according to the commission, 86 voters. The final protocol of the same commission failed to specify the number of voters who received ballots on the second day of early voting, mentioning the total amount for two days.
Mismatch of figures was reported by observers at polling station No. 12 in Mahiliou: on March 18, they registered 104 voters, while according to the commission, 164 voters cast their ballots. On March 19, 154 people voted at the polling station and the commission said there were 175 voters.
At some polling stations, election officials forget to post voting protocol, for example those of PEC No. 71 in Mahiliou.
There were also registered facts of pressure on observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections".
In particular, on the second day of early voting, an observer at PEC No. 71 in Mahiliou, Ms. Samahkvalava, was denied the right to observe the elections. The reason was her statement to the Election Commission that only three of the 15 members of the commission were present during the sealing of the ballot boxes.
Observer Vadzim Kuzmin working at PEC No. 35 in Vitsebsk was rudely rebuked by the Election Commission Chairman for "attempts to disrupt the elections" and was prohibited to rise from his seat to observe voting procedures".
Observers cite the most striking cases of violations during the early voting. The final results of election observation will be announced during a press conference of "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" to be held on March 24.