From civil to state oversight in balloting committees

From civil to state oversight in balloting committees

One of the most striking changes that have recently been made to the electoral system is the composition of ballot box committees.

It is needless to underline the importance of these committees, who take on the responsibility over the ballot boxes where we cast our votes. In fact, these committees are responsible for the fairness and honesty of an electoral process.

A legislative proposal by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have changed the composition of these committees considerably. In order to understand this major change, we need to look into the current system, which is about to abolish soon.

The first point to be looked into is the election of the heads of balloting committees.

The main aspect of the law on “Basic Provisions on Elections and Voter Registers” is that it paves way for the representatives of the political parties to be selected as the head of these committees.

In this system, the head of these committees has been selected by lot in the District Election Board (DEB) to which the ballot box is affiliated.

DEB has seven members, which include the committee head (the most senior judge in the district), four representatives from each of the four political parties that have received most of the votes and two civil servants determined by the committee head. (Recent changes do not affect this structure of the DEB.)

Until today, first an election to determine the heads of these committees were held and representatives of the four political parties used to present candidates for each ballot to the DEB. For instance, each political party representative in the balloting committee in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul used to nominate 441 candidates for all the 441 ballot boxes in Beyoğlu.

In addition, a candidate, a “joker” who is not the representative of any political party is also included in the lot.

This candidate used to be selected following the consultation of the head of the DEB with two civil servants on the board, with the criteria being “having a good reputation and being literate,” and each ballot used to have one person not affiliated with any political party. This person generally used to be a senior civil servant.

Consequently, there have been five names in the lot box, which include four candidates identified by the four political parties and one “civil servant with a good reputation.”

Lot casting have been performed in a transparent way in the DEB in front of political party representatives. The importance of this lot is that it foresees that one of the political party representatives would become the head of the committee with an 80 percent probability. In other words, “civil servant with good reputation” had only 20 percent probability of getting selected as the head.

This way, the heads of these committees have been distributed equally among political parties across Turkey.

The changes that were approved in parliament last week abolished this system.

With the new law, a new system based on directly appointing the heads of these committees has been introduced and the possibility of selecting representatives of political parties to head these committees has been abolished.

The head of the balloting committee will be determined as follows:

A) The district governor will send a list of all public officials in that district to the District Election Board.
B) The chairman of the DEB will identify public officers in an amount twice the needed amount from this list “by lot.”
C) The next phase is specified in the amendment as such: “The chairman of the District Election Board identifies the head of the balloting committee who has no obstacles for this position.”

In other words, the chairman of the DEB will first have a short list by lot from names in the list sent by the district governor, then will appoint the head of the balloting committee from that short list.

So far we talked about the change in the election of the head of the balloting committee. There is also a change in the structure of the balloting committees. We can summarize this change as follows: 

There are seven members in the balloting committee. The four political parties have representatives in the DEB, while five parties with the highest votes are represented in the balloting committees. After the head of the balloting committee is elected, then parties inform the names of their representative to become a member of the balloting committee.

In the old system, a party could have both a head and a member in the committee. The seventh member in addition to the head and five party representatives were determined by lot from members of the village and community council and council of elders. In the cities under the metropolitan status without these councils, the seventh member was also appointed by the head of the DEB from among civil servants.

The new system also abolished the presence of the seventh member from these councils. Instead, the head of the DEB is granted the authority to choose the seventh member from the list sent by the district governor.

In other words, the seventh member becomes an appointed member instead of an “elected member.”

As can be clearly seen, the main logic behind the aforementioned change dramatically weakens the control of political parties over the balloting committees. Instead, the supervision of district governors who are affiliated with the governors and the judge, who is the head of the DEB, over the balloting committees, is systematically strengthened.

It implies a transition from an appointment system in which the selection by lot is determinant and balloting committees are transparent and civilian-based to an appointment system in which the party in power is determinant over the state mechanism.

In a presidential system which collects all power in one center, the excessive power of the execution on the balloting committees is self-evident.

Sedat Ergin, hdn, Opinion,