The mission deployed in two waves: a core team was located in Gibraltar for one week around the election and two short term observers deployed primarily for polling day and the days immediately before and after. The team consisted of three observers from the United Kingdom and one from the Republic of Ireland. These observers were accredited by the returning officer for Gibraltar, Paul Martinez, and were allowed unimpeded access to polling stations across Gibraltar and to the counting process.
In advance of polling day our core team of observers conducted interviews with interlocutors from a range of perspectives (See Appendix A), such as political parties, regulatory bodies, election officials and media outlets in order to evaluate multiple aspects of the election. This qualitative work aided in informing the team of the local political context of the election, in addition to further clarification on local process and logistical considerations.
On polling day, the team of four observed all the polling stations across Gibraltar in addition to the verification and counting of votes. Each polling station observation was conducted in pairs to allow for objective observation and the observers then agreed their opinions of the electoral process before submitting data. The observations generally took around an hour per polling station, with the observers asked to ensure they saw the entire process which included staff greeting electors on arrival at the polling station. This happened on every occasion. The organisation of polling stations was extremely well run across Gibraltar. Staff were very well trained and presiding officers were able to follow local electoral laws. Polls were open from 9am to 10pm. The observation teams were asked to observe the deployment of ballot boxes from City Hall, the opening of polling stations as well as a closing of a polling station. Counting began soon after the close of the polls at the John Mackintosh Hall, Main Street, Gibraltar. The final ballot box arrived at 10:35pm when verification of votes was already in progress.
Conclusions & Recommendations
Our observer team and electoral experts met with several professional and political interlocuters whilst in Gibraltar and we have included some of the feedback on these meetings, alongside our quantitative findings, in our conclusions. Six specific aspects of the voting procedure became apparent to the observer group to comment on.
- A lack of means by which blind/partially sighted voters could cast their ballot secretly and independently
- The large number of sample ballot papers and their removal/disposal
- The extent to which candidates can remain in polling stations for extended periods of time
- Lack of Purdah
- Registering voters
- Gender imbalances.
Blind & Partially sighted voters
In general, voting for those with a disability or impairment was conducted in a proper manner as reflected by our data displayed in Q.4. Accessibility to all polling stations was very good, as was the suitability of the buildings chosen. The presence of an accessible booth in every polling station was also welcomed. In addition, the possibility to conduct an absentee or postal vote widens the range of methods by which a disabled voter can cast their vote.
However, both of our teams noted a relatively high number of voters being assisted by the presiding officer, normally due to a disability or old age. Although this method worked well in practice, it is important to remember that these voters’ ballots are not afforded the same secrecy as others. As is the practice in many other national elections, such as was recently observed in Austria by Democracy Volunteers, the introduction of Tactile Voting Devices such as a braille overlay for ballot papers and magnifying equipment provides those with limited or zero eyesight, the ability to interact with the voting process in a more sanitised fashion and affords them greater independence.
R1 All polling stations should have Tactile Voting Devices to maximise the number of disabled voters who can vote in complete secrecy.
R2 Polling stations should be issued with magnifying glasses for use by the partially sighted.
Sample Ballot Papers
Data we have collected shows that political materials were in view on the route to the polling booth inside the polling station or in the booth itself at 44% of polling stations. In the vast majority of circumstances this was in the form of coloured sample ballot papers handed out by party campaigners outside the polling station. Many people took these with them into the polling booth and then left them there. Although the slanted desk space helped mitigate these being left in greater numbers and regular checks to remove them by polling staff they were often still present. Furthermore, on their removal they were often left in sight of voters in the polling station or disposed of in visible bins. Many of our interlocuters told us they are considering switching away from these towards a single poster/board being used to show voters where their party is on the ballot paper. This was due to the cost associated with printing thousands of sample papers and the associated environmental impact. If this is not the case their proper disposal or a system to reuse them would be encouraged.
R3 Consider methods of limiting the circulation of sample ballot papers which can be replaced by a single large poster stationed outside the polling station. Alternatively put in place written guidance on how to recycle these to voters for later use in the day/ their proper removal from sight (for example to be placed in a brown envelope) in order to not bias the voting intentions of others.
Candidates in polling stations
Throughout election day candidates and their election agents were seen entering polling stations to thank polling staff for their work. We believe this is to be encouraged as it helps promote a healthy democracy and community. However, on a few occasions, candidates were seen lingering inside the entrance of the polling stations greeting voters and on one occasion were seen to indicate where to vote on the ballot paper to a member of the public. This is worrying as it could be considered to be intimidation of a voter.
R4 Restate to party officials that the polling station must remain a ‘sanitised’ area free from political debate or discussion about the vote. They should be reminded of this in clear written briefings before each electoral event.
Lack of Purdah
Whilst not directly associated with our findings in polling stations, as part of our deployment we met with a number of experts, party officials and others associated with the electoral process. During some of these meetings many individuals and organisations discussed the lack of an official period of purdah (except for during voting hours). It was argued that a period of purdah which restricts the announcement of major infrastructure projects or controversial government initiatives, which could be advantageous to any party or candidate, should be implemented to prevent misconduct, or the perception of it, in public office.
R5 Consider implementing a legal period of purdah for a greater time period than polling station opening hours. Normally this would be for the entire period of an election from the date it is called until the close of polls.
Notices for individuals to register on the electoral roll were extensively advertised in newspapers and on the government’s official website as well as being followed up with a door-to-door canvas (up to three times). In the run up to the election a polling card was sent to each household. However, on polling day observers witnessed several voters apparently being denied their vote as they either hadn’t registered with the relevant authorities or they were potential cases of personation. All those not on the register were offered a so-called ‘tendered ballot’ paper. Following further investigation, it seems clear that those who were excluded were not cases of so-called personation but subject to clerical error in the polling stations. We believe that there were three cases where voters were incorrectly marked as having voted ahead of their attendance at the polling station.
R6 Issue polling cards to each individual elector rather than each household in order to ensure every citizen is reminded that they are individually registered.
As noted earlier, when assessing the incumbent and official opposition parties only 10% of candidates were female. Even with the inclusion of Together Gibraltar who had the policy of equal numbers of male and female candidates, this figure only rose to slightly above 20%. In polling stations 78% of staff were female. It is clearly for the political parties themselves to ascertain why there is a gender imbalance in their selection processes, but we felt this was something commented on by several interlocutors.
We have no recommendations to make in this area but would encourage political parties and those running the elections to try to reflect the diversity of the population as much as possible in those running for election and those conducting it.
Overall, the observer team was very impressed with the extremely well-run election by Paul Martinez and his staff. The election was extremely well managed, and staff seemed very well trained on how to deal with the various challenges that polling day can generate. Staff were welcoming and engaged with the fact that an observer group were deployed across Gibraltar and were happy to assist with any questions that the team had whilst deployed before polling day and whilst conducting observations in polling stations.
We would also like to the thank the various media outlets and party representatives for the open and candid way they engaged with the observer group, making the observation that much more effective in assessing the various aspects of the election that the team was keen to observe.