Key Election Watchdogs Summarize Appeals Process

As the deadlines for legal disputes for Georgia’s October 31 parliamentary elections have passed and the CEC summarized the first-round results on November 13, approached key election watchdogs to reflect on the appeal process.

The watchdogs, that have appealed the violations both in District Election Commissions (DECs) and courts, speak of the obstacles in the process, including artificial hurdles to dismiss the complaints and general negligent attitudes on the part of both institutions:

Elene Nizharadze, Head of International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)

Elene Nizharadze, head of ISFED, respected and veteran election watchdog in Georgia, negatively assessed the processes both, in the Election Administration and in courts. Out of  162 complaints submitted by ISFED demanding only vote recount, only 10 were satisfied, with some of them only partly, which does not suffice to build up a picture. Further problems included artificial, unclear hurdles designed to dismiss the complaints, dismissing complaints simply as unfounded, or marking particular observers as not authorized to file them.

Similarly, the majority of the court appeals were again rejected, and the court thus could not rectify the shortcomings of the Election Administration – with both institutions failing to study the disputed precincts and provide the public with substantiated responses, according to Nizharadze. Such failure further “deepened the political crisis” in the country, she noted.

Nizharadze said the Election Administration bears the main share of responsibility, as it failed to address the problems that were its fault, despite the specific recommendations ISFED presented.

The only way out of the crisis now remains a political dialogue in the hope to reach some agreement, noted Nizharadze.

In this context, ISFED head stated that ruling Georgian Dream’s suggestion to recount raised further questions as GD has no authority to instruct the CEC, and that the Election Administration is not in power to carry out more recounts.

Nona Kurdovanidze, Deputy Head of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA)

Nona Kurdovanidze said that GYLA, among others, filed complaints in relation to 109 precincts where it requested recount or clarification of voting results in final vote tallies.

Deputy Head said that it was obvious that DECs did not thoroughly review the cases and looked pro forma rather than showing substantial interest to study all evidence, adding that the trend continued in courts as well.

DECs did not satisfy most of these complaints, Kurdovanidze said, noting, however, that in 3 out of 19 revised precincts the final data were changed. As for the courts, she said 12 out of 38 appeals were satisfied, with 3 of them again leading to changes or even annulment of voting results.

According to GYLA’s Deputy Head, the complaints were mostly considered but generally rejected, with both DECs and court failing to provide proper substantiation of their decisions, denying the requests as groundless “with no proper evidence.”

While there are no assumptions that every recount might have led to a change in voting data, the practice showed that “there were truly significant shortcomings at specific precincts and the recount led to changes in voting results,” Kurdovanidze noted.

Eka Gigauri, Head of Transparency International Georgia

TI Georgia Head reckons that there was a lack of political will to lawfully review the complaints and answer all their questions. “Perhaps this was because had we opened more precincts, more problems would have appeared. Otherwise, they should not have been scared to recount these precincts.”

The approach towards the complaints filed by the watchdog was vague and not uniform among various DECs, even if all complaints by the CSO were identical in quality, noted Eka Gigauri. She said TI Georgia’s initial complaints covered 62 precincts, of which 40 were not satisfied and 19 more were dismissed without well-founded arguments.

In the 3 precincts that were recounted, Gigauri cited errors in the summary protocols when a party had 2 instead of 42, or 3 instead of 33, and 1 instead of 21 votes.

Watchdog Head said district courts rejected 92,8% of 42 complaints, with zero success in the Court of Appeals, even for the lawsuit involving video evidence that showed a violation of electoral laws.

Gigauri also noted that although the CEC was allowed to wait a little longer, it rushed to summarize the first-round results, despite persisting questions in relation to appeals. Still, the CEC decided to deliver the results a day before the second round of political negotiations between the ruling Georgian Dream and the opposition parties, thus robbing the opposition of political ways to consider recount, CSO Head remarked.

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