More Election Blunders Reported as Scores Flock to Vote Early

Long queues of voters outside a polling station Sunday in Nakhon Ratchasima province.
Long queues of voters outside a polling station Sunday in Nakhon Ratchasima province.

BANGKOK — Election officials were under fire for several cases of alleged mismanagement during the weekend’s early voting, including providing the wrong ballots and missing candidate information.

The Election Commission scrambled to win confidence following a storm of complaints on mishaps that could potentially lead to a number of ballots being voided, as polling stations nationwide were overwhelmed Sunday by early voters flocking to their ballots in the kingdom’s first election in five years.

One major problem that emerged during the day were reports of election officials in several districts giving wrong ballots to voters, with some being accused of refusing to provide the correct ones even after they were protested. Commissioner Jarungvith Phumma acknowledged the mistake and said the body would investigate the matter, encouraging those affected to report to their local commissioners.

However, election chairman Itthiporn Boonprakong said if voters submitted the wrong ballots, their votes would automatically be voided. Another commissioner, Nath Laoseesawakool, said the commission received about 50 reports of such cases, but insisted all were eventually able to cast the right ballot.

The confusion stemmed from the voting mechanism designating random numbers to running candidates in each constituency, meaning officials at polling stations had to give each voter a specific ballot assigned to their electoral district.

Concerns and distrust of officials over the credibility of the election process were obvious. Voters questioned efficiency on a number of issues including see-through ballot boxes, the omission of fingerprints on ballot sheets and a visibly poor ballot sorting process. It followed a wave of criticism over many problems that surfaced during overseas votes last week.

Read: Thai Election Gets Messy Start Overseas, Voters Complain

“What kind of election allows people to bring their phones into the booth, no fingerprinting, ballot boxes from [cheap grocery stores] so easy to open? Where’s the transparency of this election?” Twitter user @Jeongbyul_ wrote.

“People from different provinces have to submit their ballots into the same box. District officials told us that the postal officials would be in charge of opening the boxes and sorting the ballots. I asked if there will be election officials overseeing the sorting process and they said no. Where’s the transparency?” @Pattara66966226 wrote.

Thailand Post said it had assigned 3,000 employees to sort the ballots to be delivered to each electoral district, a process expected to take three days. It has also set up security cameras to record the sorting process at all hours and said any observers are welcome to watch the livestream feed in front of the post headquarters in Lak Si district.

The polling station in Bangkok’s Huai Khwang district yesterday didn’t put all candidates’ information on display until four hours after polls had opened, which some reports said was because the Election Commission didn’t send the documents to the station in time.

The district chief Sucheep Ariprachapirom later said the problem was likely caused by mismanagement of district officials, who got “confused because this election is different from the past.” He said he would look into whether the commission had submitted candidates’ information too late.

There were also reports of ballot errors. Numbers of the disbanded Thai Raksa Chart were still present on ballots even though votes for them won’t count. A representative from the Bhumjaithai Party complained the party’s number was missing from ballots for an electoral district in Kalasin, a mistake later denied by head commissioner Jarungvith.

Officials said advanced voter turnout in Bangkok was over 87 percent and several provinces reported the turnout to be more than 85 percent, including in Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Phrae, Trat, Phuket, Khon Kaen and Ranong. Commissioner Nath said the turnout of early voters nationwide could be higher than 75 percent.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story indicated that Sunday’s poll would be the first election in eight years. While it could be the first successful vote since 2011, general elections were held in 2014 and later voided by the courts.