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Preliminary conclusions on the observation of the first round of presidential elections (November 8-10, 2019)

The first round of the presidential election took place in a calm and organized environment, and fundamental rights and freedoms were respected. The process was generally efficiently managed by the Permanent Electoral Authority (AEP), the Central Electoral Bureau (BEC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE). The election administration met the deadlines established by the law and the electoral calendar, and published decisions interpreting the law and resolutions on complaints[1]. Changes to the legal framework made shortly before the election determined the need to supplement the regulations by decisions of AEP and BEC, which resulted in a complex and non-unitary legal framework.

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The transparency of the organization and management of the electoral process was diminished by the fact that the meetings of the Central Electoral Bureau and of the second tier electoral administration are not public, contrary to Venice Commission recommendations. A request by the FiecareVot team to meet with representatives of the Central Electoral Bureau was denied.

The Central Electoral Bureau registered 14 candidates (two women and 12 men), based on lists of 200,000 supporting signatures; contrary to the recommendations of the Venice Commission, this number exceeds 1% of the total number of registered voters. The election law does not provide a detailed procedure for verifying and establishing the authenticity of signatures[2]; the process of validating signature lists lacked  transparency and did not enjoy the trust of FiecareVot interlocutors. The Central Electoral Bureau notified the criminal prosecution bodies after finding that a significant number of signatures submitted by eight of the candidates had elements of obvious similarity. Five of these eight candidatures were validated.

During the election campaign, freedoms of assembly and expression were respected, and candidates could run their campaign and convey their message to voters without restrictions. The environment was competitive, however the campaign remained low key and was largely dominated by the topic of political and governmental crisis;  the absence of a debate on the candidates’ programs affected the voters’ chance to make an informed choice. Regulations regarding outdoor campaign materials were limitative and reduced the visibility of the campaign.

These limitative campaign regulations were circumvented by the majority of candidates, who effectively started campaigning weeks before the official date established by the law, which compromised campaign finance transparency. Of the 70.2 million lei declared by the competitors, 35 million lei came from subsidies, which raises the risk of candidates with prior access to public funds monopolizing the competition[3].

Postal voting involved sustained efforts by the election administration and postal services, however the short time allotted to legislative changes and to organizing the process, along with the lack of clear division of responsability as regards decision-making and with the overlapping responsibilities of the involved institutions, created considerable difficulties and confusion. Voters whose postal votes were not received until the deadline were allowed, through a new and welcome legal provision, to vote at the polling stations on polling days.

Government Emergency Ordinance 64/2019 allowed political parties to obtain copies of the supplementary electoral lists; the collection and processing of data by party representatives are insufficiently regulated as regards personal data protection[4].

Voting was generally well organized both within the country and abroad. Supplementary efforts were made by election administration bodies and by local communities abroad to open more polling stations than during the previous election[5]. The large number of polling stations (835), the extension of voting time to three days, postal voting and the simplification of the procedures related to supplementary lists reduced crowding and gave voters the opportunity to cast their vote. The new provision allowing voters queuing at polling stations at closing time to vote until 23:59 was welcome and necessary. Polling station accessibility was enhanced by the new legal provisions allowing voters with reduced mobility to vote at any accessible polling station and voters who cannot leave their jobs during the voting period to request to vote by mobile ballot box.

Voting on Sunday took place without major incidents; FiecareVot observers did not identify systematic irregularities that could significantly affect voting procedures or the results. In most of the polling stations visited, the process was orderly and in compliance with the law.

The main problems noted by observers were:

  • the incorrect implementation of regulations regarding supplementary lists
  • the presence of unauthorized persons at polling stations
  • local authorities interfering in the work of polling boards
  • the restriction of observers’ access to polling stations. In several cases in which the BESV presidents challenged, due to lack of knowledge of the legal procedures, the right to observe of the accredited persons, the higher electoral bureaux were informed and requested to allow observers’ access.

In all the visited polling stations, both during the advance voting and on Sunday, the polling boards functioned with the legal quorum. Observers reported a small number of crowded polling stations. For advanced voting, there were no reported irregularities related to the sealing and security or integrity of the electoral materials between election days.

SIMPV worked properly in most of the visited polling stations. Minor interruptions of the system connectivity were reported. In most cases, observers reported that both polling boards and voters understood the procedures well.

The observed polling stations were generally organized in adequate premises and equipped with the necessary electoral materials. In terms of accessibility, however, FiecareVot observers reported that one third of the sections visited were not properly prepared for people with disabilities.

Observers and voters who accessed the portal www.votcorect.ro reported several polling stations organized in inadequate premises in the UK, Malta and Germany. The FiecareVot team did not register reports about voters who could not cast their vote until the closing time of the crowded polling stations.

At the closing of polling stations, observers reported irregularities with minor impact on the process. The most common irregularity identified was failure to comply with the order of operations. The results protocol verification keys closed in most polling stations without the need to recount. Minor inconsistencies were reported related to the protocols, however observers did not identify any intentional falsification of results. Observers negatively evaluated the vote counting process in less than 3% of the polling stations from which observation reports were submitted on election night.

The vote count at the three electoral bureaux for postal voting set up in Bucharest was not evaluated positively by the observers; they reported considerable shortcomings, including the improper conditions in which the electoral bureaus worked and the excessive number of voters allocated to each polling station (over 7000 in all three cases).

Observation data

FiecareVot observed the advance voting, the activity of the electoral bureaux for postal voting and the voting and counting of votes on Sunday in polling stations in the country and abroad. FiecareVot organized meetings with institutional interlocutors – the Permanent Electoral Authority, the Special Telecommunications Service, polling boards  – and will meet in the following period with other institutions involved in organizing the elections – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Romanian Post.

The data contained within this document does not reflect the entire activity of FiecareVot, but only the information obtained through the Vote Monitor smartphone application developed by Code 4 Romania until Sunday, 24th November at 23:00. Over 600 observers were accredited for the first round. During the day on Sunday, 1488 polling stations were observed using the application. The monitoring of the Sunday counting procedures  includes information from 231 polling stations. The data will be updated in the final report.

Below you can find information about the procedures, according to the data gathered with Monitorizare Vot smartphone application.

FiecareVot will publish all the press releases during the second round of elections on www.fiecarevot.ro/comunicate. An archive of all published communications can be found under the same link. The original text of this translation and the recording of the press conference organized after the first round of elections can be consulted on https://fiecarevot.ro/2019/11/11/concluzii-preliminare/

[1] All the decisions of BEC were published on prezidentiale2019.bec.ro, while the decisions of AEP were published on www.roaep.ro

[2] BEC performs an administrative verification of the signatures. The Constitutional Court acts as an appeal instance.

[3] Read more about the situation of subsidies in Romania in EFOR Policy Brief The budgets of the Romanian political parties,  www.expertforum.ro/en/political-subsidies.

[4] A complaint has been directed to BEC – https://expertforum.ro/gdpr-partide-bec/

[5] Polling stations abroad were opened wherever at least 100 requests from one community were processed by AEP.

 


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