Election authorities on Wednesday halted the inspection of about 8 million ballots cast in last month’s presidential runoff in Afghanistan, heightening concerns that an already chaotic process to choose the country’s new leader could take months to complete. The effort to reexamine the votes was paused for a full day to hammer out differences between the two candidates over what criteria to use to scrap suspicious ballots, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said. The audit, which began last week, was expected to resume Thursday. Tensions have been high since the June 15 election, in which former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah faced off against former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani after a first round of voting in April in which neither secured the majority needed to win the presidency.
… At the commission’s compound Monday — where all the votes are being audited in large, dark hangars ringed by cement blast walls and barbed wire — the confusion among IEC staffers was clear. Representatives of the rival campaigns pored over ballots they suspected of being fraudulent, but with no preestablished criteria, decisions — some of them confusing and counterintuitive — were made on an ad hoc basis.
For example, if a voter had signed his or her name next to the candidate’s picture, in lieu of the required check mark, and if the signature was legible, the ballot was deemed fraudulent, international observers there said. But if none of the IEC staff could read the signature, the ballot apparently stayed in. The logic was that a voter could have intended the indecipherable scribble to be a check mark. A legible signature was a deliberate spoiling of the ballot, observers explained.