Summary of Monitoring of the Second Round of the 2021 Municipal Elections
Transparency International Georgia monitored the second round of the local self-government elections with over 250 observers. Our observers have reported up to 150 insignificant and relatively serious violations during the day. We have filed a total of 23 complaints in the district and precinct electoral commissions.
Since the elections in many precincts were concluded with a rather narrow margin, the violations and problematic tendencies, encountered both, in the pre-election period and on Election Day, might have had a serious impact on the ability of voters to exercise their free choice, as well as on the final results of the elections. Therefore, the public could have legitimate questions with regards to the overall fairness of the elections.
The second round of 2021 local self-government elections was held in a largely peaceful environment during the first half of the day, but later the situation became tense at many electoral precincts, with reports of escalating instances of physical and verbal confrontations. Furthermore, there were many instances of interference in the work of journalists and the unlawful noting down of voters’ identities at the polling station. We observed the gathering of party coordinators outside many precincts, including within a 100-meter radius of the polling stations, which is a violation according to the new amendments of the Electoral Code. Various violations by biased observer organizations, which were in most cases supported by the election commissions, were another issue on Election Day. During the process of vote counting and tallying of votes, there was an observed trend of precinct election commissions artificially stalling the completion of the summary protocols and sending of draft summary protocols to the district election commissions in advance for approval. Furthermore, there were instances of incorrect sorting of invalid and valid ballots in several electoral precincts. The Central Election Commission began the publication of preliminary results at the same time with the summary protocols becoming public, which is an improvement of the practice observed during the first round.
Noteworthy cases of serious violations are the following:
Physical confrontations outside the electoral precincts
There was an observed rise in the number of physical confrontations during the second half of the day both in and outside the election precincts. Information about such confrontations was provided to us by our observers, as well as reported by various media. Instances of physical confrontations between political party members were observed in Tbilisi outside Electoral Precinct #84 of the #10 Gldani District, Electoral Precinct #40 of #3 Saburtalo District and Electoral Precinct #62 of #6 Samgori District, as well as #15 Electoral Precinct of the #67 Zugdidi District.
Interfering in the work of journalists
According to the information provided by our observers and reports published by the media, there were instances of interference in the work of journalists on Election Day. The Media Advocacy Coalition released a statement on this issue.
For example: Near the Electoral Precincts #81 and #5 of the #67 Zugdidi District, Davit Mania, who is a journalist from TV Formula, was obstructed from carrying out his journalistic work by coordinators of the Georgian Dream. Police were present on the scene but did not duly respond to the violation of the journalist’s rights.
At Electoral Precinct #2 of the #33 Kareli District, TV Monitoring disseminated a video that allegedly shows a representative of National Movement physically assaulting their journalist.
At Electoral Precinct #1 of the #64 Senaki District, a journalist from Guria News was unlawfully ejected from the precinct on the basis that he was taking a video with his phone.
Interfering in the work of an observer
There were observed instances of interference in the work of an observer on Election Day. In some cases, the commission members had an aggressive attitude towards the observers. For example, at Electoral Precinct #7 of the #70 Poti District, our observer was not allowed to monitor the process and was kicked out of the polling station. The Chairperson of this precinct, Zaveli Gaganidze, was threatening our observer with physical violence. Furthermore, district commission member Natia Chikvaidze, who was also present at this precinct, was also aggressive towards our observer.
At Electoral Precinct #64 of the #7 Senaki District, our observer was temporarily obstructed from entering the polling station during the vote counting process. The problem was resolved with the intervention of the Senaki District.
At Electoral Precinct #22 of the #70 Poti District, our observer was obstructed from taking a picture of a supposedly invalid ballot.
Noting down the identities of voters at the polling station
Throughout the country there were reports of civil society observers and commission members unlawfully noting down information about the voters at the polling station.
Namely, observers were standing near the registrars or queue moderators, taking interest in the identities of voters and passing on the information by phone to others. Such instances were observed in the #19 Electoral District in Tianeti and #79 Electoral District in Batumi.
In many precincts at #79 Batumi, #17 Telavi and #20 Rustavi Districts, queue moderators were loudly announcing the voters’ identities, which was noted down by several persons present at the polling station.
The practice of recording information of voters’ identities was an important challenge during the 2017 local-self government elections, as this could be perceived as interfering in the will of the voter. This practice was negatively assessed by both local and international observer organizations.
Violations by observers from observer organizations
Similar to the first round, there was an observed trend of violations of the law by observer organizations. At Electoral Precincts in #67 Zugdidi District, we observed a trend of more than one observer from observer organizations “Green World” (a total of 2066 observers registered for the second round) and “Public Union for Georgia First” (a total of 1590 observers registered for the second round) being present at the polling station, which is a violation of law. After a remark from our mobile group, the Chairperson asked the unlawfully present observers to leave the polling station.
At Electoral Precinct #15 of the Zugdidi District, according to a representative of National Movement, a commotion broke out inside and outside the precinct because an observer from the observer organization “Green Earth Union”, Tinatin Kakachia, was planning on handing out money on the territory of the precinct. The participants of the confrontation were taken to the police for questioning.
At Electoral Precinct #2 of the #79 Batumi District Electoral Commission, a representative from the observer organization “Youth for European Future” (a total of 467 observers during the second round) was standing next to the registrar for a long time, asking voters their names and surnames and noting this information down. At Electoral Precincts #104 and #58, observers from the organization “Youth Initiative for a Future Georgia” and “Green World” were noting down the identities of voters next to the registrar and passing on this information to someone else by phone. After our observer’s remark, they stopped doing the aforementioned.
Stalling the process of completing the summary protocols
The process of finalizing the summary protocols was stalled in various precincts of Poti, Gldani, Saburtalo, Zugdidi and Khelvachauri electoral districts. The commission filled in only the copy of the protocol, sent it to the District Commission and held back in filling in the original copy. There is a suspicion that the precinct electoral commissions were warned to run the summary protocols through to the district commissions prior to filling them in. The Electoral Code does not recognize such a practice and it could be considered as undue interference in the work of the precinct commissions.
Issues related to the sorting of valid and invalid ballots
The sorting of valid and invalid ballots was a subject of debate at many polling stations across Georgia. In most cases, the arguments were related to the invalidation of ballots where the voter’s will was clearly expressed. For example, at Electoral Precinct #20 of the #66 Zugdidi District and Electoral Precinct #20 of the Isani District, several valid and invalid ballots were not correctly sorted according to their respective categories.
Admitting voters to the polling station without the check of electoral ink
There were instances of voters being allowed to cast ballots without checking them for electoral ink. For example, at Electoral Precinct #15 of the #69 Chkhorotsku District, up to 10 voters were admitted to the polling station without them being checked for electoral ink.
- Law enforcement agencies should swiftly and effectively investigate all alleged instances of criminal violations;
- The precinct commissions should timely fill in the summary protocols in order to dispel any concerns of undue interference;
- The Central Election Commission should issue clearer guidelines and recommendations to precinct electoral commissions on the principles of recognizing ballots as invalid;
- The members of the precinct commissions should refrain from unlawfully recording and processing voters’ personal information at the polling stations. Furthermore, the Commission Chairpersons should take appropriate measures to timely resolve similar behavior carried out by observer organizations and electoral subjects;
- It is necessary to raise the professional qualifications and work ethics of electoral administrative staff, especially on the level of precinct electoral commissions.