Friday, December 16, 2005

Iraq's Clockwork Election

An old fashioned clock consists of a number of moving parts: gears, weights, a pendulum, etc., all moving together in rhythmic precision. These clockwork parts move slowly, but predictably, and produce an accurate result. Just like yesterday's election in Iraq...

Iraqis went to the polls yesterday in overwhelmingly large numbers to elect a new government. While official statistics have not been released yet, news reports have estimated the turnout at between 70% and 80% of eligible voters - a number significantly above the 60% turnout rate typical for federal elections here in the US. It is also worth noting that there have been very few allegations of irregularities, and by most accounts the voting took place smoothly, with minimal violence.

The Independent Election Commission of Iraq (IECI), who are probably quite busy counting votes right now, should be feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment. A year ago, they managed the election for the current interim government, and there were some reported irregularities. But, they learned from their mistakes, and two months ago, they managed the constitutional referendum, and the irregularities were few and far between - about par with a typical election here in the US. Now, the voting in this latest election seems to have proceeded like clockwork.

The IECI staff have really done their homework on this election, crafting a unique approach based on best practices from other established democracies, lessons learned from the past election, and some of their own innovation:
  • They used the tried and true method of paper ballots and manual counting. While this is more labor-intensive than automated voting machines, and the results take longer to be released, it is much easier to ensure transparency in the process and the results tend to be extremely accurate.
  • They allowed candidates to send representatives to observe key processes, like the transport of ballots and ballot boxes.
  • They used purple dye to mark the index finger of each voter to prevent repeat voting.
  • They used transparent ballot boxes, and devised a system of codes for each ballot box to prevent fraud and tampering.

In terms of running election, the IECI were novices a year ago. But, in the course of three national elections in a year, under trying conditions, they have honed their expertise and appear to have run this latest election with the precision of a Swiss watch.

If the counting process goes through with the same clockwork precision as the voting itself, this Iraqi election may go down in history as one of the fairest elections ever held anywhere in the world. And, when you combine this with the overwhelming voter turnout, the product may very well end up being one of the most credible election results in the history of democracy. Not bad for a country that only held its first real election a year ago. Not bad at all.