The CEC Central Election Commission (CEC) has called for the abolition of special passport stamps that are meant to prevent fraudulent multiple voting in elections held in Armenia, it emerged on Thursday.
Under the Armenian Electoral Code amended last year, election officials have to put ink stamps on voters’ passports at polling stations. Those are supposed to remain visible for at least 12 hours.
However, the stamps routinely faded or disappeared altogether within minutes during voting in the May 6 parliamentary elections, sparking opposition allegations of foul play. Opposition leaders claimed that this was done deliberately to enable Armenians that support or were bribed by the ruling Republican Party (HHK) to vote in two or more polling stations.
The CEC, which is dominated by government loyalists, denied those allegations at the time. It blamed the problem on the allegedly poor quality of ink and its incorrect use by lower-level election officials.
The electoral body advocated the abolition of the Electoral Code article mandating the passport stamps in an extensive report on the parliamentary elections that was submitted to the Armenian parliament and made public on Thursday. It claimed that the stamps can easily disappear due to natural chemical reactions and that it is impossible to find a type of ink that would stay intact “in all situations and circumstances.” The Electoral Code contains other, more effective safeguards against multiple voting, the CEC said.
Opposition deputies were quick to condemn the CEC proposal and link it with Armenia’s next presidential election due in February. “At first they did something that was supposed to have a certain positive impact, but then they wrecked and discredited that by themselves,” said Nikol Pashinian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK). “They now want to abolish [inking] altogether to resort to vote rigging more easily in the presidential elections.”
“I consider this further proof that Armenia’s electoral and government systems consider fraud the only way of ensuring their reproduction,” Pashinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The HAK and other major opposition groups say multiple voting in the HHK’s favor has become a key form of electoral fraud in Armenia. They claim that this, coupled with a government manipulation of voter registers, is what allowed the ruling party to win the May elections by landslide. The HHK strongly denies this.
Both last year and in the run-up to the legislative polls, the Armenian opposition insisted that the best way to preclude multiple voting is to publicize the lists of eligible voters taking part in elections. It argued that Armenians would thus be able to see whether anyone voted on behalf of them or their dead or absent relatives.
The authorities rejected this demand, a stance backed by the Council of Europe. They said that the inking of passports is enough to prevent any voter from casting more than one ballot.