By Armen Zakarian
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urged the Armenian authorities on Friday to reconsider their decision not to use transparent ballot boxes in this month’s parliamentary elections.
Robert Barry, head of the OSCE’s election monitoring mission in Armenia, said a refusal to do so would mark a “step backwards” in the country’s difficult transition to democracy. He argued that the transparent boxes, which were for the first time used in Armenia in the recent presidential election, provide an additional safeguard against electoral fraud.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) has decided to revert to bigger wooden boxes on the grounds that they have enough room for three ballots which each Armenian voter will be asked to cast on May 25 by voting for political parties or blocs and individual candidates and approving or rejecting amendments to the constitution. The CEC has rejected the OSCE’s offer to supply an additional transparent box to every polling station, saying that Armenian electoral legislation does not provide for such a solution.
But speaking to a group of journalists, Barry countered that Armenia’s Electoral Code does not ban multiple ballot boxes. Barry also dismissed the CEC’s claims that precinct-level election commissions have only nine members each and would not be able to handle two ballot boxes. Only four commission members were assigned to perform specific tasks in the last election, he said.
The idea of transparent boxes is backed by two of the CEC’s nine members. One of them, Artashes Avoyan, is a senior member of the pro-establishment Orinats Yerkir party. Avoyan expressed concerned at a CEC meeting last week that the wooden boxes could be stuffed with pre-marked ballots before the start of voting.
Ballot box stuffing was the most widespread form of irregularities reported by the OSCE observers and opposition proxies during the February 19 and March 5 rounds of presidential voting.