The Postal Ballot Dialogue

The Postal Ballot Dialogue

ECB officials say voters are educated about the electoral process and the importance of voting

even if PB facilities are not provided

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) will not extend Postal Ballot (PB) services to all the Bhutanese. Diplomats, civil servants, members of the armed forces, employees of Druk Holdings Investment (DHI) students and trainees are the only ones who will avail PB services. This, the ECB says, is done as voters are now educated about the electoral process.

Additionally, it is in accordance with the electoral rules as per Section 331 of the Election Act, said the media spokesperson of ECB. 

The spokesperson also said that in the upcoming Fourth Parliamentary Elections, eligible Bhutanese citizens, including students will be provided with postal ballot facility, as enshrined under Section 331 of the Election Act. The eligibility of dependents shall also be as per the provisions enshrined under this Section.

Therefore, ECB will not extend PB services to Bhutanese working in State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), private companies and those overseas, who do not fall in the bracket of those who are eligible to vote.  However, Bhutanese citizens covered by Section 331 of the Election Act, residing overseas are eligible for PB voting.

Meanwhile, those who obtained permanent residence (PR) and green card are not eligible for PB services. As per the citizenship law of Bhutan, a Bhutanese citizen cannot hold dual citizenship.

Justifying the discontinuation of PB services to some groups, ECB officials said that the ECB has been continuously educating voters on their roles, responsibilities and right to exercise their franchise. They said that with the experience acquired during the course of the democratic transition of the country and following three Parliamentary elections, people should vote, the officials said that ECB is confident that the Bhutanese today are more aware of the electoral process and better prepared to shoulder electoral responsibilities.

Further, the officials said that extensive awareness programs were carried out with audio-visual materials in addition to in-person civic and voter education. “Many of the teething issues encountered during the first and second elections now have been effectively addressed,” officials said.

Moving forward, ECB officials said that it is now important to implement the electoral process as per rules enshrined in the Election Act, unless otherwise necessitated by compelling emergency situations like the recent pandemic.

Officials said that the PB services to vote through the Postal Ballot Facilitation Booth (PBFB) was facilitated to reduce the incidence of PB rejection that was noted in earlier elections due to mistakes made by postal voters.

Similarly, during the Third Thromde and Local Governance (LG) elections, 2021, PBFB was facilitated to mitigate transmission risk.

From the summary of PB during the National Council election, 2008, about 1,800 postal ballots were rejected from the 6,450 ballots received. Only about 4,700 votes were valid. ECB received about 30,000 applications where 12,200 were rejected from the 8,792 issued ballots.

The highest number of applications received was 2981 from Trashigang against which 1361 ballots were issued. Gasa received only 34 applications against which 13 ballots were issued during the election year.

Meanwhile, invalid PB during the National Assembly (NA), 2008 was 813 out of the 17,932 received. 

According to the PB summary of the NC election in 2013, about 3,970 PB were invalid from the 27,941 received. From about 40,700 applications received, about 9,174 were rejected.

During the primary round of NA election, 2013, from the 38,959 PB received, about 1,000 PBs were invalid.  Similarly, in the NC election, 2018, a total of 2088 (1543 male and 545 female) postal ballots were rejected during the opening of Envelope A due to one or more of the reasons prescribed in the Postal Ballot Rules and Regulations. 7.4 % of the total postal ballots received were rejected due to various issues like the Identity Declaration Certificates (IDC); such as no IDC/IDC inside Envelope, blank IDC, IDC without witness signature, unsigned IDC, invalid IDC, no/self witness, incomplete/wrong information and no/not properly sealed Envelope B.

As compared to the Conventional Postal Ballot rejection, PBFB saw a lesser number of rejections with only 63 (32 male and 31 female) postal ballots out of 60,690 which is just 0.1%.

Out of 110,538 Postal Ballot received, 109,304 postal ballots were accepted after the opening of Envelope A for counting on the Poll Day during the NA election, 2018. Only 1.13% (1234) of the total postal ballot received was rejected during the opening of Envelope A due to one or more of the reasons mentioned in the Postal Ballot Rules and Regulations.

When asked about the effect of discontinuation of PB service on voter turnout, ECB officials said that it is the responsibility of citizens to fulfill the sacred duty of voting either through EVM or PB. As enshrined in the Constitution, ECB officials said it is imperative for citizens to understand the sacred duty of voting to elect the best candidates who would serve the nation. The officials also reminded the candidates that they should not trust the voters if one should arrange transport for voters.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu