While not too much was made of it, the presence of at least two dummy ballots plus two A4 papers taped together – apparently to resemble the outside part of a ballot – in voting bins (see Wednesday paper) is reason for some concern. United People’s (UP) party number 23 candidate Francisco Lacroes had been the only one to claim this amounted to election fraud.
His request for a full recount of the voting district where A4 papers were found was denied by the Central Voting Bureau (CVB) for lack of evidence of vote-buying and he was advised to take it up with the competent authorities. A recount of all votes at the same polling station nevertheless took place because of discrepancies in the “proces verbaal” (official report) and nothing extraordinary was noted.
But that does not necessarily mean there were no irregularities. As Lacroes reasoned, a first voter at the polls in question could have deposited a fake ballot while pocketing their real one and then selling it once back outside. The second person would then deposit that same – already filled-in – ballot and bring out his or her own again for the next one and so on.
Another alternative is that someone simply does not cast their ballot but takes it back outside for the next one. However, this would likely be seen by polling station staff.
The practice in fact has a name and is known internationally as “Bulgarian train.” It’s a method of election rigging in which a voter is given a pre-cast ballot before he or she enters the polling station, which he puts into the box, and brings out the blank ballot for which he/she receives payment.
The desired number is then marked on the blank ballot, which is given to the next voter. Only one ballot is enough to start the process, most often by the purchasing of votes, which means the manipulation is organised.
This method was dubbed “Bulgarian train” by the media in Sarajevo ahead of the general election in Bosnia and Herzegovina of October 2010. Elections had been held in Bulgaria a year earlier during which, according to the analysts’ estimates, around 200,000 votes were bought in this manner.
To what extent this may have been done locally is difficult to verify. While election officials are now alert to people taking pictures of their filled-in ballots inside the voting booths before depositing these to later use as invoices for vote-buying, it is hard for them to tell if someone hides their ballot and deposits something else that looks like it.
Ultimately, promoting more awareness on the importance of using one’s democratic right correctly rather than selling such is probably the best way to prevent election fraud, along with the deterring effect of prosecuting vote-buying cases as already happened twice in St. Maarten.