Polling Centers: To Close or Not To Close

Printer-friendly versionSend to friend
Colin Cookman

The decision by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) to remove nearly a thousand polling centers from its preliminary lists has drawn considerable attention; Democracy International continues its analysis of this move with a province-by-province comparison to 2009 polling centers the IEC says opened.

In an August 18 announcement and a follow-up August 26 press conference, the IEC released information on the polling centers they plan to open in each province for the upcoming September 18 Wolesi Jirga elections. After a review conducted by Afghan and international security forces, the final list of 5,897 polling centers was less than the 6,835 centers first developed in the IEC’s preliminary list for 2010; Democracy International previously reviewed this decision here.

The IEC has yet to provide the full preliminary list of centers it had planned to open in 2010, so it is not currently possible to identify which centers were closed during the security review process. The IEC has stated that, while some polling stations within individual centers were reassigned or removed due to reported population shifts since 2009, polling centers were closed only due to security. The IEC has indicated it will increase the number of polling stations within nearby centers in secure areas so as to account for center closures.

In Afghanistan’s most recent presidential elections in 2009, the IEC said that it opened 6,293 polling centers. It is still not known how many of these centers actually conducted voting, and over 850 centers had their results thrown out during an Electoral Complaints Commission review of fraud. The absence of security to facilitate voting and observation was in many cases identified as a contributor to fraudulent results from these centers.


Comparison of Polling Centers IEC Says Opened in 2009 With Planned Centers for 2010 (Source Data .xls; Graphic Credit: InteractiveThings)

A rough comparison of the centers the IEC said opened in 2009 and the centers it plans to open in 2010 shows the impact of security over the past year on the electoral planning process and the scaling back of the IEC’s initial ambitions for 2010. Overall, the number of polling centers nationwide has been decreased from those the IEC said opened during the presidential election. The decision may reflect recognition by the IEC and international and Afghan security forces of the limited resources available for election security and the need to concentrate efforts on those areas they believe they can secure, rather than overly ambitious plans to open centers whose security and observation cannot be reliably provided for.

The change in open centers varies considerably by province, as we’ve plotted on the accompanying map, and may disproportionately affect some candidates whose support base is focused around certain polling centers. A few provinces, including Wardak and Helmand, have registered sizable increases in the number of centers the IEC plans to open, although whether they will actually conduct polling on election day remains to be seen. The largest decreases in planned center openings took place in Paktika and Ghazni provinces, which were also the sites of the largest number of centers discarded for fraud from the 2009 final results (with 187 and 147 centers thrown out, respectively; for a breakdown of centers removed during the ECC review, see the Polling Center Comparison brief in our Resources section).

The decision to close polling centers is a difficult one. While reducing the number of available polling center locations could be viewed as an attempt to disfranchise large numbers of voters, it may actually have the net effect of reducing fraudulent returns from “ghost” stations that were the hallmark of the 2009 Election.


Kabul, KAB


Post new comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.