It starts by cutting the bright green seal on the lid of the ballot box, but the tedious task of auditing just one box among five hangars’ worth in Afghanistan’s contested presidential election often ends only hours later. The pace of counting continues to lag amid challenges by both campaigns two days after rival candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah stood with Secretary of State John Kerry and pledged to accept the results of an election audit they vowed would end before NATO leaders meet next month to discuss their future commitments in Afghanistan. Once the seals are cut, the box is opened and some quick math done to match the number of ballots with a tally sheet inside. Things slow from there. While an auditor form the Afghan Independent Election Commission flips through several bundles of ballots, observers from the rival campaigns lean in, peering at check marks and scribbles to pull aside the ballots they consider suspicious.
According to new rules released after the Kerry-brokered agreement, 20 suspicious ballots — those with similar markings, possibly suggesting ballot stuffing — are needed to trigger a recount of the entire box. When campaign observers fail to agree the number of suspicious votes reaches that threshold, they must turn to a member of the U.N. team overseeing the process.
“Lately they have to call the U.N. over,” said one international observer, who asked not to be named due to rules limiting interviews by observers.
Boxes can take as little as one hour to review, or as long as a day, observers said.