Election blunders continue during early voting in Thailand

Early voters checking candidate numbers and poll locations at the polling stations at Banglamung School, Pattaya. Photo and caption from Prachatai

This article was originally published by Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand, and an edited version is republished by Global Voices under a content-sharing agreement.

As crowds of voters flocked to polling stations across Thailand on Sunday, May 7, to vote early or outside of their home province, they faced many issues, from names missing from the registered voter list and errors on the ballot envelopes to missing candidate profiles.

The legal watchdog NGO iLaw, now running an election watch network, reported that officials at several polling stations wrote the wrong constituency or province code on ballot envelopes. In Bangkok, at Bang Khen District Office, a voter found that the constituency number written on the envelope she was given was wrong.

An official attempted to explain that the detail on the envelope was correct and took her ID card to check the constituency where she should vote, before finding that she was voting in the wrong district. The officials then realized that they had written the wrong number on the envelope and gave her a new envelope for her ballot. They also said that they would correct the other envelopes already in the ballot box after the poll closed.

Similar incidents took place at polling stations throughout the country. Polling officials also made mistakes, such as writing postcodes or province names on ballot envelopes instead of constituency codes. After a voter complained, officials said they would fix the mistakes after the polls closed.

iLaw also reported other issues during early voting. Voters in several provinces found their names missing from the list. Meaning they will not be able to vote early, and many may have to skip voting entirely, as they won't be able to travel to their home province on election day.

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Early voters waiting to vote at the polling station at Bangkhen District Office. Photo and caption from Prachatai

Journalist and TV presenter Sorayuth Suthassanachinda also reported that at the polling station in Bangkok’s Din Daeng district, polling officials wrote down the wrong constituency number on 380 out of 481 envelopes containing ballots for Surin’s second constituency. After a voter complained, the Din Daeng District Director said that polling officials might have made a mistake, and after the poll closed, the ballot box was opened in front of voters to check for mistakes. The envelopes were then corrected.

There was also confusion over how ballot envelopes were supposed to be sealed. In some polling stations, officers did not sign their names in the appropriate place or did not sign at all.

Candidate profiles have also gone missing from display boards at polling stations in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chiang Mai, and Nakhon Ratchasima, where flyers containing the photos and profiles of candidates from the leftist Move Forward Party were missing. Meanwhile, voters at a polling station in Kalasin said candidates’ profiles were arranged in a confusing manner.

Apichat Jasaen, a Move Forward Party MP candidate, said his profile was missing from several polling stations. A voter who was voting early in Bangkok also told him that she was told by a polling official that he had been disqualified and if she voted for him, her ballot would become invalid. Apichat insisted that he has been certified by the Election Commission and has never been disqualified.

The election observer network We Watch also said that several polling stations did not display documents stating the number of ballots as required, which raised concerns that the number of ballots would not match the number of voters who turned up to vote at that polling station.

Election watch volunteers in several provinces were also prevented from observing the early voting process. At a polling station in Bangkok, polling officials forced observers to leave the poll even though they were taking pictures from outside the restricted area and did not show anyone’s personal information.

In Bangkok’s Thawi Watthana District, observers were not allowed to take photos of the voting process, while in Udon Thani, volunteers said officials were not cooperating and tried to stop them from going inside the auditorium where voting was taking place. In Chiang Mai, volunteers were prohibited from taking pictures even though they were outside the polling station.

The election watch network Vote62 also said that they received a total of 547 complaints from 58 provinces, 166 of which were related to polling officials mislabeling the ballot envelope and 64 related to missing candidate and party profiles. Of the complaints, 240 were from incidents at polling stations in Bangkok.

On Sunday night, the hashtag #กกตมีไว้ทำไม (What is the Election Commission for?) trended on Twitter with over 529,000 tweets as users complained about issues in the early voting process; with some even saying that the Election Commissioners should be jailed for their mistakes.

Meanwhile, Move Forward Party Secretary-General Chaitawat Tulaton said that the mistakes that happened during early voting were suspicious, noting that the Election Commission has been given a budget of TBH 5.9 billion (USD 175.2 million) for the election. He also said that several reported mistakes raised the question of whether it is targeted harassment, especially with missing candidate profiles, most of which were from Move Forward candidates.

Jirapong Songwatcharaporn, a Pheu Thai Party MP candidate for Nonthaburi’s second constituency, also said that in Nonthaburi, polling officials wrote the wrong constituency number and codes on over 100 ballot envelopes. The ballot box was then opened so the envelopes could be sorted, all of which was recorded on video, and the responsible officials would be investigated. Jirapong said he is concerned about the mistakes but said he believes voters will keep an eye on the voting process so that there are as few mistakes as possible.

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Voters checking candidate numbers at a polling station. Photo and caption from Prachatai

Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt said that over 90 percent of people who registered to vote early — over 750,000 people — turned up to vote on Sunday in the capital city.

Early voting ballots will now be sent to the constituencies, and in Bangkok’s 33 constituencies, the rooms where they are kept will be monitored at all times via CCTV cameras, which the public can view on a website set up by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

Sawaeng Boonmee, Secretary-General of the Election Commission, said this morning while reporters were observing the process of sorting early voting ballots at the Lak Si Post Office that over 2,072,000 people voted early across the country.

He said that the process of sorting ballots is monitored via CCTV cameras, and the Thailand Post trucks delivering them will be escorted by police cars. During the sorting process, the number of ballots will be checked against the number of ballot stubs reported to the Election Commission to make sure that there were no extra ballots and that none had gone missing.

An Election Commission official will also be present at the Post Office to sort out issues with ballots where details on the envelopes might be missing or wrong. He also promised that no such mistakes would happen on election day on May 14.

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