Observers in Brest: “In fact, there was no counting of votes”
According to observers in Brest, the procedure of vote counting is the key issue that did not allow them to consider the elections open and transparent.
During the early voting, many observers asked election commissions to make sure that the counting of votes could be transparent. However, there were no positive responses from the election officials. For example, Alena Shabunia, head of precinct election commission No. 2 in Brest, considered it inappropriate to consider the proposal at a meeting of the election commission, citing the fact that such meetings could only hear appeals against decisions of the commission.
As a result, according to local observer Sviatlana Aliasiuk, three complaints were submitted to the city Prosecutor’s Office to highlight the closed procedure of vote counting. In their complaints, the observers cited examples when they were seated more than 5 meters from the table where the ballots were counted.
An independent observer Iryna Siniapkina also drew attention to the fact that the election commission at polling station No. 18 in Brest ruled to consider valid several spoiled ballots (where there were more than one mark against the names of the candidates). Moreover, such ballots were counted in favor of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The observer notices that it was evident that the stack of ballots for the incumbent was approximately twice thicker than the stack of ballots in support of Tatsiana Karatkevich, but the final report said that the difference among these candidates was more than 10 times.
Uladzimir Yaskovich, who was an observer at polling station No. 35 in Brest, said that during the early voting commission members and observers were actually in separate rooms. “Seats for observers were literally in a school corridor, while the precinct commission worked in one of the classrooms, so we had to observe the early voting through the open door,” says Yaskovich. It was only on the election day that the observers and members of the commission worked in the same room.
Violations of electoral law at polling station No. 67 Brest were reported by an observer of the trade union of radio industry, Zinaida Mikhniuk. According to her, the voter turnout documented by the observers was a few hundred people lower than the figures provided by the election commission. In addition, the election commission rejected a proposal to arrange an open vote counting. “In fact, there was no counting of votes: the boxes were overturned, all the ballots were arranged in piles and then the commission chair wrote on a piece of paper what the commission members had whispered to him and left to join the secretary. It was clear that the final protocol had the figures received by the commission from someone superior,” says Ms. Mikhniuk, who complained about the mentioned facts.
Grave violations of the electoral law, which resulted in a complaint to the city Prosecutor's Office, were reported by an activist of the Movement "For Freedom" Dzianis Turchaniak, who was an observer at polling station No. 60 in Brest. On October 9, the observer received a ballot and kept it, casting a blank sheet of paper instead. According to Turchaniak, the same was done by three more persons who gave their ballots to the observer.
On the election day, Turchaniak was at the polling station as an observer. He noticed that the seal on the ballot box for early voting was different as compared with the way it had looked on the first day of voting. The observer concluded that the box had been illegally opened (and then again sealed), and reported it to the chair of the election commission.
During the early voting stage, the polling station was visited by 365 people, who received the corresponding number of ballots. However, during the counting of votes it turned out that the ballot box contained 364 ballots and there were no sheets of paper that had been put in the ballot box instead of the ballots. Dzianis Turchaniak believes that the sheets of paper were removed from the box and replaced with fake ballots.
A similar experiment was conducted by observer Siarhei Vakulenka, who worked at polling station No. 53. According to him, two blank sheets of paper were cast in the ballot box instead of the ballots. However, they disappeared during the counting of votes.
In addition to the comments related to the vote count, observers point out that during the early voting administrative resources were actually used to force people not to vote on the main election day (this was particularly noticeable at the polling stations, where students voted). Many questions were caused by the procedure of home voting, which in some cases significantly affected the election results at a specific polling station.