Polling station committees are part of the election administration, and they are ad hoc bodies that are appointed before each election. Their task is to directly manage the work of the polling station, ensure the regularity and secrecy of the vote and record the results. They consist of three or five members and their alternates, depending on the number of voters at the polling station. Members of the polling station committees are nominated by political subjects, and where political subjects fail to do so, then the local election commission appoints the members of polling station committees.
Since 2014 the Coalition “Pod lupom” has been warning the public, election administration and decision-makers about the so-called trade of seats in the polling station committees between the political subjects. Although the Election Law of BiH is clear and stipulates that political subjects certified to participate in elections can only have one representative in one polling station committee, this is often not the case in practice and different methods have been used to circumvent this provision of the Law. The High Representative in BiH had in July 2022 passed the Decision on Amendments to the Election Law of BiH , which, among other things, prohibits the abuse of the statutory right to participate in the work of a polling station committee by fictitious representation, prohibiting also false impersonation of any political subject with the aim of favoring another political subject. Sanctions are provided for such violations of the Law.
Observers of the Coalitions reported allegations about 55 cases of trade of seats in the polling station committees in 36 different municipalities/cities. Inspection of the list of political subjects certified to participate at the forthcoming General Elections shows continuation of the trend across BiH where a certain number of political subjects apply and get certified to participate in the elections in basic constituencies in which they neither have any activities, municipal board, official premises nor are planning to seriously participate in the race, which can indicate an intention to trade seats in the polling station committees.
Having in mind the new legal provisions that prohibit trade of seats in the polling station committees and set forth high pecuniary finances, both for the individual offenders, but also for the political subjects, it seems that a certain number of political subjects has directly given up on these intention, which can be concluded from the fact that in a higher number of basic constituencies the political subjects did not nominate sufficient number of candidates for the members of polling station committees. Unfortunately, there are still some indications that trade of seats in the polling station committees has grown from party corruption into a worse form of systemic corruption. Coalition “Pod lupom” received reports from multiple cities and municipalities, containing both proofs, but also strong indications, that some local election commissions take part in manipulation with the membership of the polling station committees by appointing party persons to the polling station committees as representatives of the local election commission.
The Coalition “Pod lupom” has recently conducted a research and prepared an analysis of the transparency of polling station committees, focusing on the so-called trade of seats in polling station committees. In line with the defined methodology the research covered 10% of the total number of polling stations in BiH, namely 500 polling stations in 126 municipalities/cities. The results of the analysis clearly and precisely confirm the existence of electoral irregularities, which the Coalition has been pointing out for many years now. The research had flagged potential suspicion of trading for more than 17% of the polling station committees’ members or 747 of them out of 4337 members of the polling station committees who were subject of this analysis. In the largest number of cases these were the persons who were on the lists of polling station committees both for the 2022 General Election and the Local elections in 2020, and who were there on behalf of different political subjects.
In its Final Report of the Election Observation Mission, ODIHR states: in order to ensure the timely formation, impartiality and professionalism of polling station committees and to increase the trust of stakeholders, the authorities should review the system of appointment of polling station committees. As reported by ODIHR, this could be achieved by limiting the rights to appoint members to polling station committees only on parties represented in the state and entity parliaments, or those drawn from a permanent list of trained people that is maintained by the Central Election Commission.
Taking into account all above mentioned, one can conclude that it is necessary to start the process of amending the legal framework concerning the polling station committees as soon as possible in order to stop the aforementioned abuses. The Coalition “Pod lupom” insists that it is necessary to:
- change the procedure to select the president and deputy of the polling station committees in such a way that they are chosen by the municipal/city election commissions based on a public call and criteria to be prescribed by the BiH CEC, and who will be appointed and trained to work in non-election years.
- contribute to the prevention of the trading of seats in polling station committees by political subjects in such a way as to introduce additional, more restrictive criteria by which political subjects are qualified for participation in the work of polling station committees.
- sanction unjustified resignations from work in the polling station committee before the Election Day by banning engagement in at least two election cycles and to prescribe to keep such records at the level of the local election administration.