June 29, 2009 — On Sunday May 24th, 2009 more than a million Mongolians, approximately 73% of eligible voters nationwide, went to the polls to elect a new President; the fifth presidential election since the nation established democracy in 1990. The elections proceeded peacefully and confirmed Mongolia’s commitment to democracy.
To support transparency of the election process, The Asia Foundation organized and deployed 27 volunteer teams to observe polling at stations across Ulaanbaatar. According to Mongolia’s election laws, only foreigners are allowed to observe elections. Therefore, observation teams were composed of an international and Mongolian counterpart. The teams were made up of volunteers from: Asia Foundation locally-based expatriate staff; concerned international citizens living in Mongolia; two representatives from the Dutch Embassy; and 11 teams from the U.S. Embassy.
In an effort to cover all of Ulaanbaatar’s 161 polling stations, the teams were assigned six polling stations to observe. In addition to observation, teams conducted a voter surveys. After a long day of observing, from 7:00am when polls opened until 10:00pm when polls closed, observation teams visited over 95% (154/161) of the polling stations in Ulaanbaatar and conducted interviews with 248 voters. In addition, some observers stayed up until the early hours of the morning to observe the entire counting process.
Based on the limited scope of the observation initiative, The Asia Foundation is unable to make a definitive assessment of the overall fairness of the election process. Nevertheless, because the 27 observation teams were deployed across the entire city, their findings provide valuable insight into the process. The Asia Foundation gathered the following initial findings by conducting post-election debriefs with the observer teams.
In general, the teams deemed the overall environment on Election Day to be conducive to fair elections. Observers noted that for the most part, polling stations were set up properly, accessible, well-staffed, well-run, and able to accommodate a high level of voter turnout for a close election. While the efficiency and accuracy of some processes could be improved, observers noted that they did not observe any widespread or systemic malfeasance or malpractices. In fact, a number of observers noted seeing polling station workers actively referring to a manual on procedures that the Foundation, with support from the Canada Fund, issued prior to the election to advance efficiency and accuracy of the registration and election process.
While the overall findings were positive, there were a few issues that observers noted that should be improved:
- There were some reports of polling stations not being properly set up to protect voter privacy in ballot marking. However, this may be attributable to a lack of guidance rather than an intention to subvert the confidentiality of the ballot.
- Access to polling stations for the elderly and handicapped is problematic; with long distances between polling stations and polling stations set up on the upper floors of buildings likely deterring some potential voters from casting a ballot.
- Crowding and long queues at the polling stations, particularly near closing time, made it difficult for observers to see all aspects of the process and strained the efficiency of the polling process.
- Although the counting process was found to be generally transparent, there is a concern over accuracy related to fatigue as the process, on average, started at about 11:00 pm and in many cases, extended through the morning hours. Poll workers, who had been working since 7:00 am, were visibly tired and prone to make errors.
- Some procedures were unclear and inconsistently administered by polling stations.
Following up to this statement, the Foundation has published a detailed report with the quantified findings of the observers, results of the voter survey, and recommendations for specific reforms that could improve the process in future elections. Download the full report.
In conclusion, The Asia Foundation would like to thank the international and Mongolian volunteers, whose commitment to fair and democratic elections, made this observation initiative possible. The Foundation would also like to commend the General Elections Commission on administering an efficient election process. Finally, the Foundation congratulates the citizens of Mongolia on a peaceful election with a high voter turnout that demonstrated the deepening roots of democracy in the country.