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Mammoth Task of Counting Votes Begins

Electoral officials estimate 60 per cent turnout as polling stations sift and collate two sets of election results.
By Zaineb Naji

Election worker Bairaq Salam Kadhim knows the task of counting votes will be an exacting job that will require long hours of work. But he says he doesn’t mind because he is so happy that the first democratic elections in Iraq in decades were a success.


“I don't feel tired because the sense of joy is overcoming my fatigue,” said Kadhim, who works at polling station no. 7 in Baghdad. “What we’re doing is for those people who sacrificed and martyred themselves for the sake of Iraq, and who did not live to see elections.”


At a press conference on January 31, officials with the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, IECI, said initial turnout figures indicated that about eight million went to the polls, which works out at about 60 per cent of those eligible to vote. Commission spokesman Farid Ayar said most of Iraq’s 18 governorates had already sent their counted votes to Baghdad, where the final tabulation will take place.


Ayar said that on the basis of initial reports, the vote had been generally fair and transparent and there were no indications of widespread fraud, although the commission was still waiting for reports to be submitted by local election workers and political parties.


In his first press conference after the election, interim prime minister Ayad Allawi said, “The terrorists know they can’t win.”


He spoke of a “new era of history” in which Iraqis must work together.


Preliminary results could be announced 48 hours after the election, but it will take up to 10 days for official results to be finalised. Two hundred election workers will do the final count in Baghdad.


Half an hour after the polls closed, Kadhim and his colleagues at polling station no. 7 began the first sorting of ballot papers. Votes were separated according to which of the two elections they were for –the Iraqi National Assembly or the local governorate council – and according to the candidate selected.


Of the 1,900 voters this polling station was designed to handle, 1,300 actually came to cast a ballot.


To ensure transparency, the sorting and separating process was videotaped and was also supervised by volunteer election monitors, said Qasim al-Janabi, the polling station manager.


“The work requires accuracy and attentiveness, as the responsibility for correct separation lies with us,” said Kadhim. “We also have to separate out the spoiled ballot papers, such as those that contain votes for more than one party, or have been left unmarked.”


Ballots cast for the same coalition or party were collected in piles of 25, labelled and put into boxes. The whole process lasted five hours, and then the boxes and the accompanying tallies were sent off to IECI headquarters.


“The sorting process went smoothly,” said al-Janabi. “But the fact that some entities [listed candidates] got only a few [less than 25] votes caused some confusion when they were put into separate parcels.”


Zaineb Naji is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


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