Iraqis Begin to Vote for First Time Since 2010

Special Voting Special Voting

Special voting takes place across the country as Iraqi electoral expertise oversees the start of the 2013 Governorate Council Elections

14 April 2013 - In a leafy schoolyard in Salihiyah, an inner suburb of Baghdad, personnel from the Iraqi security forces gather around a table, ID cards in hand. They are queuing to have their names checked off the Special Voters’ List, and their faces matched to their ID pictures. Once cleared, they will head inside to their designated polling stations to cast their vote.

These soldiers are among the first Iraqis to vote since 2010. Governorate Council general elections are still a week away but special voting allows the police and military to vote in advance. This ensures that, on Election Day, police and military resources can be completely dedicated to assuring security for civilians. Over 733,000 Iraqis were registered for special voting this time around.

“Although Election Day itself is yet to come, this 13 April Special Voting Day marks a significant achievement for Iraqis,” says Jose Maria Aranaz, Chief of the UN Integrated Electoral Assistance Team (IEAT). “It has been three years since the last electoral event in Iraq, and the new Independent High Electoral Commission has worked hard to prepare for the first elections since the withdrawal of US forces, the first time that Iraq has really managed its own elections, coordinating everything from voter registration to security.”

The UN IEAT has been supporting IHEC in these efforts, providing technical assistance and advice to the well-established local expertise that Iraqi electoral professionals have built over the past ten years.

UN staff are also playing a part in these elections as “Watchers”. For Special Voting Day they visited polling centres in Baghdad and other governorates, and will do the same on Election Day.

In Salihiyah, a UN team has arrived for its first “watching”shift.

“It is gratifying to see things running well this morning,” says Mr. Aranaz as he enters the polling centre. “It augurs well for 20 April.”

The normally busy school building in which he is standing has been transformed. Eight classrooms are set up as polling stations, with each station managing up to 450 voters in a long day that starts at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m. Traces of lessons remain on the blackboards, and how-to-vote posters are taped to the walls amid images of Snow White and other children’s characters.

Despite the hasty makeover from classroom to polling station, each room is uniform and neatly arranged. The registration desk, voting booths and ballot box are set up to create an efficient circuit that ensures the orderly flow of voters. IHEC staff man their quarters, ready for duty, and security forces begin to filter into the room. Here they must show their IDs again, receive a ballot paper, duly stamped on the reverse side, and use the booths to cast their secret vote before folding the paper and heading for the ballot box. They must first dip their index finger into a vial of ink that stains their skin purple for days, before inserting their ballot into the sealed box. These boxes will remain sealed for a week until regular voting is completed and all ballots can be counted together.

Special voting is a chance for the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to see how well their dedicated preparations have translated into a smooth electoral process, before the main event on 20 April. In the past few weeks, ballot papers and electoral materials, from the ink to the voting booths, have arrived in IHEC headquarters from suppliers in Iraq and across the world.  Hundreds of polling centre staff have been trained to follow the stringent procedures that IHEC sets down in its regulations.

At the close of Special voting on Saturday, 13 April, IHEC announced that turnout for the day had reached a significant 72% across the country, with no major security incidents, and no reports of serious breaches of the regulations. With this achievement completed, IHEC will now turn its expertise to the task of coordinating regular voting on 20 April.

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