In the beginning, when plans were first drawn to conduct the country’s first general elections in 2008, the postal ballot, or voting through post, was only meant for those on election duty. That was for around 5000 voters, mostly teachers, helping to man the 900 polling booths spread out across the country, and for the security personnel.
Then others started asking for it, people posted in embassies abroad, media personnel, tour operators, trainees and students of eligible age in schools and institutions.
All in all, more than 50,000 civil servants, armed force personnel and students were eligible, not including employees of some corporate entities and private organisations.
But, as we know, a substantial number of postal ballot applications were rejected, because they did not figure on postal voter’s list, had provided wrong information, or were without current mailing addresses. From the postal ballot votes, several thousands were not counted, again because of errors in the way the ballot was filled.
Yet the 2008 experience made it clear that postal ballots made winners out of losers, and vice versa, in some constituencies.
As the clock ticks to the next council and assembly elections in 2013, the postal ballot is once more a subject of discussions.
In the past 2 years, those eligible for postal ballots did get some practice, filling it up during the local government elections to elect a gup, mangmi and tshogpa.
The commission has announced that it will extend the postal ballot to interested Bhutanese living and working in the United States, as well as to direct dependents of civil servants.
While these measures have been welcome, others are asking whether it will also be extended to eligible Bhutanese in India,Australia and Europe. This time around, the postal ballot may also play a role for the primaries, where voters choose two from among the political parties to contest the 2013 general elections.
There are also going to be thousands of students, who will still be in school and eligible to vote. Some funds have been set aside to carry out trainings on using the postal ballot.
If given the chance, most urban residents would choose the postal ballot, than go in person to their constituency to vote. But as the election commission has pointed out, extending the postal ballot to all and sundry only increases the chances of errors in the final count, which nobody would want.
It is also expensive and time consuming.
Perhaps some brainstorming could help in finding ways to make more of the postal ballot count, and in ensuring that more people participate in choosing their leaders.
Kuensel Editorial on the 28th August, 2012.