As Afghans await the results of the presidential election held Sept. 28, many are watching online videos that appear to show ballot-stuffing, and wondering if they will have an effect on the outcome.
Afghans cast their votes in 4,095 polling stations for 13 candidates. With the threat of attacks by the Taliban, the vote-counting is expected to take three weeks. The two frontrunners, current President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s “chief executive,” are already claiming victory.
Dozens of videos on social media appear to show groups of people writing on ballots and putting them into ballot boxes. Some videos show one person checking a candidate’s name on multiple ballots. Others show entire groups doing the same thing – in what one commenter on Facebook called a “government-making factory”.
In many of the videos, it’s unclear which candidate is the supposed beneficiary of the ballot-stuffing. In the videos where a candidate’s name is visible, it is mostly Ghani and Abdullah who appear to be the beneficiaries – if the videos are authentic.
In this video posted on Facebook on Oct. 1, 2019, women are seen marking ballots for President Ashraf Ghani, then sticking barcodes on the ballot for biometric identification.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced Sept. 29 that it had received 2,275 complaints of election fraud from the various parties and that it would investigate them.
Shah Hossein Mortazavi, an adviser to President Ghani and his former deputy spokesman, told The Observers that some of the videos do indeed appear to show violations of electoral rules. “I’ve seen the videos on social media,” he said. “While some appear to be authentic and show potential infractions, we should not jump to conclusions. Why would a group of people who are breaking the law record it on video? If anything is found to be an infraction, the Commission will disqualify the suspect ballots.”
In this video posted Sept. 29, 2019, a man is seen marking the name of President Ashraf Ghani on multiple ballots. Local media say the video was filmed in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktia province.
But not everyone is so optimistic. Many Afghan web users, journalists, and activists warn that large-scale ballot-stuffing could have an impact on the election results.
“Ballot stuffing for money”
Haseeb Motaref is an Afghan Humain rights activist and regular acts as an election observer for NGOs in Afghanistan. He is skeptical that the election commission will change things:
“There’ve been a huge number of videos leaked to social media since the day after the election. I’ve counted about 100 so far. The videos are a sign of serious irregularities in the Sept. 28 election.
In some of the videos, the location is clear. In many, it’s not. That makes it hard to investigate them. In most of the videos I’ve seen, people are supposedly faking votes for President Ghani, but there are others that appear to show them making ballots for Abdullah as well.
In this video posted Sept. 29, 2019, a man is seen filling in multiple ballots for President Ashraf Ghani and sticking biometric barcodes behind the ballots.
“The ballot-stuffing is the first problem. The second problem is the Independent Election Commission itself. Many members of the commission are not independent. Some of them have publicly supported President Ghani. And even if the commission did really want to do its job, it doesn’t have enough power to take any action.
Election observers have noted a lack of logistics and ballots in regions that traditionally lean toward Abdullah. On election day, phone connections were down across almost all of the country. There were even power outages in many regions. It made it harder to report potential irregularities.
Another problem was ballot boxes left without supervision in rural areas. There are reports of election commission staffers installing voting machines and ballots at polling stations the morning of election day and coming to collect them that night, leaving locals to oversee the voting. That made it easy for local warlords to organize ballot-stuffing for their preferred candidate.
Lots of people are asking why people would record these scenes. There’s a simple explanation: money. People who stuff ballots often do it in exchange for money. They film the ballot-stuffing as proof for their “employers” that they did the work. But some of these videos were leaked on social media.
People might also make this kind of video to discredit candidates: stage a ballot-stuffing scene in favor of candidate X, and then sell the video to the campaign of candidate Y so he can accuse his rival of election fraud.
And of course, some of the videos were made just in order to expose corrupt practices in the electoral process.”
This video posted Oct. 1, 2019 shows a man filling in multiple ballots for Afghanistan’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah.
Large-scale election fraud has long been a problem in Afghan elections. In 2014’s presidential race, Abdullah warned of “industrial-scale fraud” and videos appearing to show ballot-stuffing in favor of Ghani appeared online.
To reduce fraud in the 2019 election, the election committee introduced the use of “biometric signatures”. Voters’ fingerprints are scanned at the polling station and then linked to an electronic barcode that they attach to their ballot.
Our Observer Haseeb Motaref says this could be an easy solution to the ballot-stuffing videos:
“Obviously the fake votes have no biometric signature. If we want a clean and transparent election result, the election commission must cast out any vote without a biometric signature.”
Abdullah’s campaign has already demanded that votes without a biometric signature be discounted. The Ghani campaign says many Afghans voted without the signature because of a lack of trained operators, and that their votes should stand.