In Shaaf neighborhood in Gaza City staff of the Central Elections Commission were concerned about the low turn out of unregistered voters. “At this school some 20,000 unregistered voters could come, register and vote, however, until now, we only received some 1,300 voters,” one of them said. One woman I spoke with said that she had to go to four polling centers before she found the right place to vote. Some voters couldn’t find their names on the register at their polling station. Others couldn’t find their names at polling centers which were not designated to them.
The low turnout of those on the electoral register resulted in the Central Elections Commission announcing, at around 7 P.M. that citizens could register and cast their vote at any polling center.
At around 1 P.M., the Central Elections Commission issued a press release stating: “We urge voters to check the location of their designated polling centers, and go to vote there.” Those on the on the electoral register could find their polling location on their registration receipt, or in the supplement distributed in the newspapers, or through the “toll free line” which the Central Election Commission had designated to assist voters to locate their polling center.
Around 5 P.M., the Central Elections Commission extended the voting to 9 P.M. and additionally allowed Palestinians to vote solely on the basis of on their identity cards, without any need to check them against the voter roll or census list. This caused many Palestinians who were not registered to vote to enter the polling center in the Shaaf area and in Rimal. Voters were confused.
Adding to the confusion, Palestinian police at the gate of one girls’ school allowed anyone to enter. “These are elections Gaza style,” said one voter, commenting on the chaotic scene at the school.
At 9.00 PM, the situation returned to normal in the polling center in Rimal. Members of the Central Elections Commission closed the ballot box and under the eyes of three local and three international observers — myself and two South Africans — started to count the votes. In the classroom out of the 1,364 unregistered voters that could cast their vote, only 297 voters showed up, registered and cast their vote, less than 22 percent. In another classroom, voter turnout was under 10 percent.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reports that there may have been voter fraud. Also, presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouti claims there may have been voter fraud. With Palestinians storming polling centers to cast their vote solely with their identity cards, many had the potential to vote without any checks, leading to to spectre of voters possibly casting votes twice.
Arjan El Fassed is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and currently for in the Gaza Strip as part of UCP’s election monitors, accredited as an international election observer.