Smart phones against fraud in Turkish elections
As the voting process concludes for 56 million voters in key Turkish elections, citizens have rushed to ballot boxes for the counting of votes more than ever, having been alerted for weeks by civil society groups founded to monitor and intervene in possible election fraud and irregularities. Initiated by “Oy ve Ötesi” (Vote and Beyond) a few years ago, there are now dozens of such groups organizing tens and thousands of volunteers across the country - either to sign up as ballot observers from the lists of political parties or as independent observers, as permitted by Turkish election law. Monitors use the capabilities of their smart phones and social media to get organized and communicate.
The first result of the active monitoring system was achieved in the morning hours of voting in the Syrian border town of Suruç in Şanlıurfa province. When two monitors suspected that hundreds of pre-stamped votes had been attempted to be cast, they started to record the incidents and the jostling in the ballot box between those committing the act and those trying to stop it. Those attempting the fraud were claimed to be supporters of a parliamentary candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) list, whose name had also been involved in a clash in the same town 10 days ago in which four people were killed.
Soon after the Supreme Election Board (YSK) announced that voting had been suspended at that ballot box, another incident took place in the same town: The police found four sack loads of pre-stamped votes mixed in with legally cast vote in the boot of a car, after which they took four people into custody.
In another incident, again thanks to the alerts of ballot box monitors, a total of 10 foreign nationals were taken into custody while trying to interfere in the voting procedure by pretending to be observers from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). State-run Anadolu Agency reported that three French nationals were arrested in Ağrı province, three Germans in Şırnak, three Italians in Diyarbakır and another Italian in Batman, all in Turkey’s east and southeast.
Observing and intervening in the fraud attempts are only part of what the monitors have assumed as a voluntary duty. The second phase is the transparent counting and recording of the votes in each ballot box and conveying the results to the local stations without any intervention in the sealed vote bags. This is a particularly important and tense part, especially after claims following the 2017 referendum on consolidating all executive powers in the presidency, which was won by the campaign led by President Tayyip Erdoğan with a rather narrow difference: 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent.
Then comes the third stage, in which local voting results are digitally transferred first to provincial stations and also to the Supreme Election Board (YSK). Four representatives of the four parties represented in the current parliament are represented at these provincial stations, but they can only intervene in the final stage. Monitors assume the role in order to confirm the votes used in the ballot boxes match up with the results transferred to the provincial stations and then to the YSK, comparing photos of the documents that are tried to be taken at every stage, again by smart phones and through sharing via social media.
Muharrem İnce, the presidential candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), made a statement right after the conclusion of voting in Ankara, where the YSK is based. He said they are closely watching the security of the votes cast and asked all monitors not to leave their duties before the counting and recording of the votes is completed, in order to prevent fraud in the interim stages.
In sum, it is fair to say that the June 2018 elections are likely to be remembered for the active intervention of Turkey’s civil society in the voting and counting process against fraud.