When ballot boxes from Battambang are opened today as part of an ongoing Constitutional Council investigation, any unsealed documents will likely be attributed to insufficient training. That is the excuse National Election Committee secretary-general, Tep Nytha, gave on Sunday amid concerns over the documents’ integrity.
But officials in Battambang and Kampong Cham provinces yesterday defended the training, painting a more complex picture of their technical know-how, while at least one election monitor suggested that the number of unsealed safety packages among those examined may be too high to indicate mere carelessness.
Despite the fact that Nytha has said workers received only a few hours of training, Sok Chhin, deputy chief of the Kampong Cham Provincial Election Committee, said yesterday that polling place workers in his province received two days of training, and that what they received was “better training compared to previous elections”.
“We were trained by the NEC, and we trained the [Commune Election Committee], and the CEC trained the electoral officials who were recruited from the general public,” Chhin said, noting that training explicitly focused on sealing the packages.
Battambang PEC chief Vorn Porn said his workers had received one day of training, but Khoem Samral – a CEC administrator in a commune in Battambang – told a different story.
“Three days we trained for officers that work on Election Day. When I finished [training] with the PEC, we continued to train,” he said.
When it came time for his office to train others, he continued, they spent one day going over procedures with the help of video and an instructional book – which trainees kept – then a second day practicing.
“Then the second day – after we finish [going over] the duties, watch the video – then we practice the process of voting day,” Samral said. “Then we show them the voting booth; then we install the voting box for them. Then we do some practice about the process that they already trained [on].
“The trainer trained from the PEC, and they took what they [learned] from the PEC, and trained all the staff, so yeah, actually, it was good we trained with them,” he added, noting that some staffers, like himself, even had experience working polling stations in last year’s commune council elections.
On Sunday, the NEC acting under orders of the Constitutional Council publicly examined ballots from 13 polling stations in Kratie. The inquiry raised eyebrows among the opposition and monitors when more than half of the packets containing polling documents – which are to be sealed to prevent tampering – were revealed to have been unsealed.
Koul Panha, executive director of the election watchdog Comfrel, said poll officials should receive training for “three or four days, at least,” but said that tools like videos were good to help officials “visualise the procedure”. When it comes to failing to seal polling documents that were meant to remain unopened, however, a lack of training is not likely to be the cause, he added.
“My question is not so much about the training capacity, but maybe something is wrong.… It is very serious, it is maybe an institutionalised question,” he said, noting that training may affect more complicated procedures, like filling out myriad forms.
But, he added, failing to seal eight of the 13 packages examined so far seemed to indicate more than coincidence.
“To not seal Package A, I think there is something wrong.… I cannot make a conclusion [whether it was] intentionally, but it is a severe concern,” he continued. “It is not a complicated task; it is just sealing.”