The Department of Elections and election monitors claim that the reason for the rejection of 500,000 votes cast at the recently-held general elections was due to voter confusion over the lengthy ballot paper. The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) speaking to The Nation mentioned that despite all the awareness programs conducted to educate the voter, the complicated ballot papers had made the average voter confused when casting their vote especially when marking the preferences.
PAFFERAL Executive Director, Rohana Hettiarachchi elaborating further on the issue said that one of the main reasons for such a high number of rejected votes is a result of too many independent groups mentioned in the ballot paper.
“We have educated the voter in every possible way which was available to us during the short period of time. But since too many independent groups were included in the ballot paper the voters have found it difficult when marking the preferential votes,” he added.
CaFFE Executive Director, Keerthi Tennakoon expressing his opinion mentioned the fact that high number of rejected ballots has nothing to do with voters’ education. He also said that it was understandable for the voter to be confused when they see the size of the ballot paper.
“The awareness programs were very successful. We educated the voter through mass media as well as social media. Election monitors collectively did a fairly good job within the limited time period,” said Tennakoon.
However, TISL Director Shan Wijethunga admitted that in the Vanni and Northern Province from which most of the rejected votes were reported, the monitors were unable to educate the voters in such areas due to lack of time.
“Practically it was impossible for us to hold awareness programs in every district. But we did cover most of the areas in the country,” Wijethunga added.
When the Additional Election Commissioner of the Department of Election MM Mohamed was contacted he opined that the nearest possible reason for the large number of rejected votes in the last election is the lengthy ballot paper which had small text and symbols. He mentioned that the department will look into the matter soon as to what exactly was the cause for such high number of rejected votes. “But we believe that the cause for such a high number of rejected votes is the complicated ballot paper,” he further said.
He further pointed out that the highest number of rejected votes was recorded in the 2010 general elections which were 596,000. “There could be several reasons as to why a vote can be listed as rejected. In most of the cases it is where the voter has cast the vote for more than one political party,” said Mohamed.