Egyptian civil society organizations, with hundreds of volunteers spread among polling stations to observe the referendum on constitutional amendments, monitored several violations, yet agree that Egypt has witnessed an outstanding voting day.
“Observed violation don’t affect the results of the electoral procedure, Egyptians have done a great job today,” Magdy Abdel-Hamid, the head of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, told Ahram Online.
The elation was echoed by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights' (EOHR) Hafez Abu Saeda, who told Ahram Online, “Egyptians, from different classes and different age groups headed to the polling stations today, a scene that was never seen in Egypt before.”
“The dazzling turnouts show Egyptians are ready for democracy," he added
On the other side, monitors all around Egypt, covering some 54,000 polling stations, serving a little over 40 million eligible voters, cited several shortcomings, the most significant of which that a great number of voting forms were not stamped, some polling stations opened their doors late due to the late arrival of supervising judges, and the absence of curtains and seals over the ballot boxes in some polling stations.
The high electoral committee has taken swift decisions to overcome some of these shortcomings. It ruled that un-stamped voting papers would be counted, even if lacking the signature of the judge supervising the voting station.
“Stamping forms is not vital in this electoral process because the process of counting votes takes place inside the polling stations, and voting papers are not moved elsewhere,” Ahmed Osman, the judge overseeing a polling station at Giza told Ahram Online. “I’m taking care of the voting process from A to Z, so people should either trust me or not.”
The most serious violation noted by observers, however, has been the psychological war waged by Muslim Brotherhood members and Salafists to coerce Muslim voters to cast a "yes" vote, by describing it as a religious duty. They were also in open violation on the ban on campaigning on polling day, imposed by the high electoral committee.
Islamists were using a number of arguments: that Copts are campaigning for voting "no" in order to turn Egypt into a secular state by removing the second article in the Egyptian constitution, which stipulates that Islamic Sharia'a is the main source of legislation. They were also telling Muslim, a "yes" vote was an Islamic religious obligation. “In Alexandria, Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood members were holding what were nearly rallies before several polling stations, in order to push people to vote "yes"," Abdel-Hameed told Ahram Online.
Resorting to religious and sectarian discourse in campaigning is dangerous, EOHR's Abu Saada told Ahram Online. "Such a discourse could lead to violence," he said, and lamented that "there are interest groups who are trying to undermine the national unity (of Muslims and Christians) exhibited in Tahrir square."
Voters, naturally, are not allowed to vote more than once, and to ensure this, the voter marks a finger with phosphoric ink, after voting in the polling station. Unfortunately, phosphoric ink was absent in several voting station, while, in some others, the ink could be easily removed.
“This is a kind of logistical flaw should be overcome in forthcoming polls,” Abdel-Hameed noted. Accordingly, the Army Supreme Committee announced that anyone found to have tried to cast his vote more than once will be severely punished.
This is not easy, however, because names were manually enrolled and the data is not computerized. But long queues, which last for a couple of hours, may have acted as one safeguard against double voting.
In four polling stations, two at Nagaa Hamadi, in Upper Egypt, one at Maadi, in Cairo and one at Qusia, in Assiout, there was clear evidence of ballot stuffing, however. Abu Saeda said he was "shocked" by this. "I never expected it, because this is only a public opinion issue, not an election," he said.
Civil society organizations were monitoring with only 50 to 60 percent of their actual capacity in this poll, for they had very little time to prepare.
The EOHR was working with a total of 4,250 volunteers reporting from around Egypt. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement was working with 500 volunteers, along with several hundred citizens reporting on witnessed violations. Egyptian Association for Community Participation was also working with a couple of hundred volunteers.