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Quick to Vote, Slow to Count: Technical Difficulties in Tunisia

An investigation into the slow declaration of results for the National Constituent Assembly election.
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Photo Credit: The European Parliament

Under intense outside scrutiny, the rebirth of Tunisian politics has attracted many admirers. But after full results were delayed by yet another day, a move beyond the emotional poignancy of those experiencing their first free election to the organisation of the election is needed. What follows is a chronological look at the technical process of voting.

The unregistered voters

After the embarrassment of a de facto negation of the registration process, it is little surprise that the unregistered vote has been systematically overshadowed by the enthusiasm of registered voters.

While the 90% participation rate of the 4.1 million registered voters is accentuated and often misquoted as the total election turnout, numbers of unregistered voters are not currently available. And this betrays a site of grave omission.  

Upon being told that voting using ID cards was permitted at special polling stations, part of the incentive to register for the election was taken away from citizens. 55% of eligible voters registered. And an election monitoring source revealed a number of problems to Think Africa Press:

There were significantly fewer specialised polling stations for unregistered voters. On the day of election, after being overwhelmed with requests, the SMS-service that disclosed the location of these stations experienced considerable failings. Not only does this inundation illustrate the amount of potential voters affected, but in the absence of the service, many voters went to their local stations, queued for hours, only to be told they were in the wrong place.

The real problem of youth

Disillusionment amongst the youth was widely discussed before the election but Tunisia’s relative infancy in democratic elections seems to have played a more decisive role. A report by the US election monitoring body, the Carter Center, has been critical:

To have any efficacy, real democratic choice must be accommodated with practical measures. In the run-up to the election, the democratic intent exhibited by the existence over 100 political parties and thousands of independent candidates was heralded, but it should also have served as a warning to the ISIE, the independent body charged with the administration of the election. According to the Carter report, "essential decisions and regulations [...] came late in the process, leaving inadequate time for the training of election officials and workers". 

This lack of training made "the counting process slow and laborious". And local-level officials cannot shoulder the blame. Although electronic means of counting were available, their lack of training was underpinned by the use of a manual, outdated system of tabulation.

Shortly before the test election in La Fayette Tunis, ISIE President Kamel Jendoubi made the admission that there were shortages of officials. Any procedure must allow for the possibility of human error, a contingency plan should have been more urgent and necessary following the acknowledgement of just how overstretched resources were. As the inevitable discrepancies occurred, there was confusion as to who had the "authority to correct mathematical errors and quarantine results".

After a surprisingly strong showing by outsiders Aridha Chaabia, conspiracy theories and allegations of foul-play are starting to mount. With full results expected to be released tonight, the ISIE must move quickly to refocus the public on the gains of the election. 

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