The SEC ignores missing

The Centre for Civic Education (CCE) yesterday sent an initiative to the State Election Commission (SEC) requesting the SEC to annul the decision to supply the MEC Berane with ballots from the reserves of ballots in the number that the MEC Berane indicated to be missing for their municipality. However, the SEC rejected this timely and useful initiative at the session today, and the consequences can be serious.

The MEC Berane sent a letter to the SEC on 26 August 2020, stating that yesterday began the procedure of marking ballots for the elections scheduled for 30 August 2020. The MEC of Berane pointed out that on that occasion, it was determined that six ballots were missing, with numbers as follows: 052848, 052849, 052867, 052869, 052879 and 052880. The SEC decided at today’s session to separate the missing number of ballots for the MEC Berane from the reserves of ballots that are kept in the SEC, which will be recorded in the minutes, with the indication of numbers of assigned tickets.

We remind that on 17 August 2020, the SEC made a Decision on the form and appearance of ballots, manner, place and control of printing, verification and distribution of ballots and ballot templates, as well as the destruction of the matrix for the elections of MPs to be held on 30 August 2020. The CCE pointed out that the allocation of ballots from the reserves for these purposes is not in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 3 of the SEC’s Decision.

Namely, the SEC’s Decision stipulates that the reserve number of ballots (3% of the total number) is kept by the State Election Commission and, if necessary, at the request of municipal election commissions, in case of repeated elections at certain polling stations or damage of ballots, submits it to the authorized persons of that commission and makes minutes about that. If the letter from the MEC Berane can be interpreted as a request at all, it is clear that there is no legal basis for the SEC to submit the missing ballots to the MEC Berane.

This is indicating the potentially serious problem. It is logical that there may also be a shortage of ballots in other municipal election commissions or that these ballots are sent to another municipality where there would be a surplus. The SEC should have established the reason for the missing balots if these are sent from the printing press and if yes – where, and this would also include the request for urgent clarification from the printing press.

The solution could have been the providing the new set of ballots for a polling station (s) in Berane, and not just the replacement of these six ballots. The election process is strictly formal, so the fact that six ballots are missing is concerning because it puts into question the regularity of the election process in the municipality of Berane, caused by the work of the SEC. We remind you that the Law on the Election of Councilors and MPs (art 78a, para 4)  stipulates that ballots must be arranged in the order of serial numbers and that they are issued to voters in that order during the voting. This is opening space for submission of objections which may lead to the repetition of the elections in this municipality, as we already know that on that polling station/s these irregularities will be noted. Also, the SEC could have changed its Decision in part of issuing reserve ballots and to provide the polling stations/s in Berane with the whole set of needed reserve ballots. And, most importantly, the SEC had to take measures to prevent missing ballots throughout Montenegro on the election day, which someone could use to revoke the regularity of the elections.

CCE also sent a request for free access to information to the SEC, requiring, inter alia, information on whether SEC members were present during the counting of ballots, as well as data relating to the specification of the machine used for counting ballots, in order to try to determine who is responsible for the missing number of ballots in the possession of the MEC Berane.

Damir Suljević, Programme associate