A number of contradictions and question marks have appeared in relation to the Supreme Election Council (SEC)’s resolution that ‘unstamped votes are valid’ which tainted the results of the 16 April referendum. The SEC, which is trying to wriggle out of the affair by shifting the blame for the casting of unstamped votes onto polling committees, has courted suspicion in that it had applied the rule that ‘unstamped votes are invalid’ in line with statute in elections held until now, but abandoned this rule during the referendum in which the change in the system of governance was approved and at a moment when there was an increasing possibility of ‘no’ prevailing.
The SEC has covered up the illegal situation that emerged from the stamping by certain polling committees of unstamped votes in the course of counting. Moreover, the permitting by the SEC of the use of ‘Yes’ stamps during the referendum even though a tender was put out for more ‘Preference’ stamps than were needed covertly pointed voters’ preferences in the direction of ‘Yes’. Additionally, the deeming of unstamped votes to be invalid abroad but valid domestically infringed on legal consistency and caused chaos. In the face of all this, for the SEC to announce its justified resolution following the CHP’s objection and also after the expiry date for objections to sub-province election councils smacks of being a ‘firefighting exercise.’ The course of events and the contradictions to emerge were as follow:
1- What is the origin of the rule that voting slips not having a stamp on their rear are invalid?
The form to be taken by voting slips is regulated by the Law on Basic Provisions on Elections and Voter Registers number 298. According to Article 77 of the Law, voting slips and envelopes must be in a stamped state and polling committees must conduct stamping prior the commencement of the poll. According to Articles 98 and 101 of the Law, envelopes and voting slips that do not bear the polling committee stamp are invalid. Article 101 stipulating that voting slips are to be stamped was amended by the AKP itself in 2010. In other words, the rule that unstamped votes are to be deemed invalid is a procedure that fully complies with statute.
2- What has been the case law up until the SEC’s controversial resolution?
The SEC has without exception ever since 2004 deemed votes that do not have the polling committee stamp on their rear to be invalid. Indeed, it resolved to cancel and renew the mayoral election held on 30 March 2014 in Bitlis’s Güroymak sub-province on the grounds that there was no a stamp on envelopes. The council has always imposed the stamp rule in the circulars it has compiled in polls that have been held until now, most notably the 2010 constitutional amendment referendum. The SEC, not restricting itself to this, gave the caution, ‘Unstamped votes will be deemed invalid’ in the circular dated 14 February 2014 containing the rules for the 16 April referendum. The SEC also explained this rule in training sessions. Indeed, the SEC pointed out in the promotional brochure on how to vote in the referendum that the polling committee stamp must be on the voting slip. This brochure is still on the SEC’s website.
WHY WAS THE RECORD SIMPLIFIED?
3- Why were the ballot box records amended with one week to go?
With one week to go until the referendum, the ‘Constitutional Amendment Referendum Ballot Box Result Record’ was simplified. Certain important items that were included on the old result records were not included on the records prepared for the referendum. The items that were removed were: -The total number of voting slips obtained from the Sub-Province Election Council, -The number of unused voting slips left over, -Voting slips deemed valid on objection, - The total number of envelopes obtained from the Sub-Province Election Council, -The number of unused envelopes left over, - The number of envelopes deemed valid and -The number of envelopes emerging from the ballot box.
THE FATE OF THE REFERENDUM CHANGES
4-What resolution did the SEC initially pass on 16 April, and on what grounds?
Voting procedures in 32 provinces in the east commenced at seven a.m., while they commenced at eight a.m. in other provinces. With everything going according to plan, reports initially came in of the ‘Yes’ stamp being used in certain places instead of the ‘Preference’ stamp. Information also started to reach the SEC about voting slips with the polling committee stamp applied to the front rather than their rear side. The Council convened at about ten in the morning and ruled on the matter, ruling that in both cases the votes were valid. The SEC did not restrict itself to this, and in setting out the justification whereby, ‘voting slips that do not have the polling committee stamp on the rear are invalid,’ it gave the reason to be, ‘To prevent the casting of fraudulent votes.’ In other words, until this time, the law continued to be applied in the normal manner.
LACK OF STAMPS PREDOMINANTLY IN THE EAST
5-How and why did the SEC resolve that ‘unstamped votes are valid?’
The AKP’s representative on the SEC, Recep Özel, stating that reports were coming in to the Election Coordination Centre set up at AKP Headquarters of unstamped votes being cast in certain sub-provinces, applied to the SEC at 3.30 p.m. Özel requested of the SEC in his single-page petition set out in a simple manner and not containing concrete facts that, ‘Unstamped votes be deemed valid.’ The eleven-person SEC convened hastily and approved the AKP representative’s request five minutes after polling stations had closed in the east, and deemed unstamped votes to be valid. And, in one instant, the fate of the referendum changed. The time at which the AKP made the application was in fact at a very critical moment. The polling station exit data reaching AKP Headquarters were beginning to add up at around this time. According to an allegation, the realisation had struck home that ‘no’ votes were heading neck and neck with ‘yes’.
6- Why was the resolution sent by SMS and why did it not contain a number?
The SEC sent its resolution that votes to which the ‘Yes’ stamp had been applied instead of the ‘Preference’ stamp would be valid at 15.54 by SMS to polling committees. It was stressed in this message that the resolution in question was resolution number 559. However, when the same SEC sent the controversial stamp resolution to polling committees by SMS at 17.06, the resolution number was not contained in the message. At the same time, the sending of the message following a delay of an hour has given rise to question marks. It is also curious that the justification for such a controversial resolution was not drafted on the same day. The SEC influenced the referendum with an unsigned, unsealed and unnumbered resolution without drafting the justification on the same day.
7- Is it a coincidence that the majority of the unstamped votes were in the east, where ‘yes’ prevailed in 20 of 32 provinces?
The results to emerge from the 32 provinces in the east where voting in the referendum started one hour earlier than in the west and finished at four p.m. are curious. ‘Yes’ finished in the lead in 20 of the 32 provinces that included the Eastern Black Sea provinces. The SEC resolution had not yet been announced when these out-of-the-way ballot boxes were opened at four p.m. The resolution was only sent to polling committee chars one hour later. The ‘yes’ votes to emerge from these provinces tipped the referendum by a hair’s breadth in the ruling party’s favour. The majority of the unstamped votes deemed valid are also said to have been cast in these provinces. For example, it has been learnt that all of the votes in ballot box number 1046 in Kayseri’s Melikgazi sub-province were unstamped.
8- How is the number of unstamped votes to be established?
It is hard to establish their number at the moment, because the SEC passed the resolution that, ‘Unstamped votes are valid’ and acted as if this decision was final when it sent it to the polling stations. That is, the SEC also declared from the outset by this means that it would reject objections. Had the SEC, at the time it accepted unstamped votes as valid, given the instruction for their number to be recorded along with the distribution of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes, their number would be known.
WHY ON THE THIRD DAY?
9- Why were unstamped votes abroad deemed to be invalid?
The SEC’s foreign representation made reference to Law number 298 in ruling unstamped votes and envelopes cast abroad to be invalid. However, at the same time, the SEC initially sent resolution number 559 in which it had commented that unstamped votes were invalid in a message to polling committee chairs. Polling committee chairs, in line with this comment, began to deem unstamped votes to be invalid. Meanwhile, in response to the AKP representative’s application, the SEC now made an announcement by SMS that unstamped votes were valid. In other words, a chaotic situation in which three different resolutions were floating around was experienced on referendum day.
10-Why did the SEC announce its justification on the third day?
The third day on which the justification was announced is important because this was the final day for objections to be made to the sub-province election councils. Also, parties and civil society organisations headed by the CHP had made their objections before the justification was announced. The SEC announced its justified decision after all this and rendered all the objections useless. Because the objections were drawn up without seeing the SEC’s justification, the SEC’s hand was strengthened.
11-Do polling committee chairs bear the sole blame for the stamp scandal? What is the source of the problem?
No. In previous polls, the SEC delivered voting slips and other materials to polling committee chairs four days in advance. However, the Council changed this rule before the 16 April referendum and delivered the bags on the morning of the poll. However, under the law, the voting bags must be opened on the referendum day after the polling committee has been constituted. The basic problem here is that the rule of electing polling station chairs from among impartial civil servants was abandoned at the referendum and they were elected from among candidates nominated by political parties. The polling committee chairs, who had not been trained to an adequate level, gave rise to controversy by ‘forgetting’ to stamp the voting slips before voting procedures commenced.
12- Why is the timing of the unstamped vote scandal significant?
The CHP alleges the number of unstamped votes to be 2.5 million. The SEC, for its part, asserts in its decision that votes were unstamped, ‘even if sporadically, at certain polling committees.’ That is, the Council claims that their number is not very great. The question as to why no crisis of this nature has been experienced in previous elections awaits an answer.
13-How many of the surplus voting slips that the SEC arranged to have printed were returned?
For the voters who went to the polls, 167,140 ballot boxes were set up. The reason that the SEC printed more voting slips than the number of voters was to make good the shortfall if some voting slips were lost. The voting slips that would have been used by voters who did not go to the poll during the referendum and the surplus ones that had been printed had to be returned to the SEC with a record. There exists the suspicion that the surplus voting slips that had been printed were cast in place of voters who did not go to the poll.