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iraq votes 2014
best laid enrolment plans wrecked by illegal trade in voting cards

Hayman Hassan
In a bid to avoid election fraud and expedite voting, Iraqi authorities have distributed over 16 million special electronic voter ID cards. Despite what seems like a foolproof plan, the cards are apparently now…
3.04.2014  |  Sulaymaniyah
Voters in Iraq\'s most recent provincial elections. Pic: Getty
Voters in Iraq\'s most recent provincial elections. Pic: Getty

Iraq will hold general elections on April 30 this year and since February, Iraqi authorities have been distributing electronic voter’s cards. The Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, estimates that more than 16 million of the 22 million Iraqis eligible to vote have received their cards.

As Abu Dhabi based newspaper, The National, reports, “last October, [IHEC] signed a nearly US$130 million deal with Spanish technology company Indra to organise the elections by implementing electronic and biometric systems to register voters. The five year deal stipulates that the company issue 22 million ID chips with voter details recorded on them, as well as supply the needed equipment and training. In previous elections, voters had to go through lists glued outside balloting centres to find their names before going inside”.

IHEC reports that around 21.5 million cards have been printed. These will all be activated on election day and then deactivated afterwards – in order to cast their vote, voters must come to the balloting offices with the electronic ID card and some other form of identification.

This is the first time that electronic voter ID cards, which are supposed to prevent electoral fraud such as double-dip voting, will be used in Iraq. However it seems even this apparently fool proof system is already being manipulated; in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan rumour has it that certain political parties are buying and selling voter ID cards in order to increase their number of potential votes.

Some say that the electronic voter cards are being sold for around US$200 each and that these will be used on April 30 together with forged identity papers. Voter cards issued to individuals who have passed away are apparently also being bought and sold.

Sarbast Mustafa, who heads IHEC, says he hasn’t had any concrete evidence that the electronic voter cards are being bought and sold. “Each of the cards contains a chip with information on the voter – that will prevent any fraud,” Mustafa says.

“But this isn’t just a rumour,” one senior politician from leading Iraqi Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, told NIQASH; the source wished to remain anonymous. “Some political parties really are trading these cards and there is evidence. There is one party that is actually seriously organizing this kind of fraud.”

However the source didn’t want to say which parties were doing this, adding only that the PUK was watching the fraudsters closely.

Other critics of the electronic voter cards say that they were produced using what they describe as “dirty electoral rolls”. That is, the local electoral rolls are badly in need of an update, they contain some names twice as well as the names of deceased persons.

During the region’s own general elections, held last September, politicians were already criticising local electoral rolls, saying that there were more than 90,000 names repeated on the register as well as an estimated 170,000 dead people.

“To get around this, IHEC should produce a list featuring the repeated names and the names of the deceased,” suggests Zamanko Jalal, a member of Iraqi Kurdish opposition party, the Change movement, also known locally as Goran. “The electronic voter cards were issued based on a dirty list. What we need is a clean list. Additionally,” he noted, “the cards don’t contain the fingerprints of the card holders and this is going to cause problems too.”

The other rumours going around about the electronic voter cards is that they may continue to be used after the elections, as a form of government-endorsed ID, that will allow card holders to claim benefits and other government services. This kind of information may well be meant to make card holders think twice about selling their voter cards for personal profit.

“Voters shouldn’t “lose” their election cards,” Mustafa insists. “However the rumours of other uses for the cards are unfounded. The cards will be activated at 7am on April 30 and they will be active until the evening. After that they will be deactivated for one month. But up until today there has been no decision made as to repurposing them. However such a decision may well be taken after the elections,” he suggested.

Iraqi’s clerics are also getting in on the act, to try and prevent the electronic voter cards being used for nefarious purposes. Some have issued fatwas, or religious edicts, forbidding the sale of electronic voter cards.

“Selling these cards is haram [evil],” Ahmad Hussein, one of the clerics who supports these kinds of fatwas, told NIQASH. “The money the voter receives from such a sale violates others’ rights and the sanctity of their will. It’s like selling oneself for money – it is an evil act and God will punish it.”