Turkey's Supreme Election Council (YSK) on Wednesday released a 250-page reasoning behind its decision to cancel and redo the March 31 mayoral election in Istanbul. The operative reason behind the annulment decision were illegally-serving ballot box chairmen which came to the forefront as the main irregularity. The irregularities in voting tally sheets and the high number of ineligible voters, however, although not enough to make a difference in election results by themselves, are pointed to as factors that damaged election security and credibility.
The YSK's decision on the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) mayoral elections came down to a vote of four members against and seven in favor on May 6. The four who voted against the cancellation had requested a time extension for writing their reasoning, while the seven who voted in favor had previously written their reasoning. The YSK has the authority to evaluate ordinary and extraordinary objections, which are submitted within specified time periods, against the election results. These evaluations are limited to the elections that are subjected to the objection, which is the reason why only metropolitan municipality mayoral elections were canceled although along with mayors, voters also elected municipal council members in cities and muhtars (neighborhood/village administrative officers) and members of elder's councils.
In the reasoning, the YSK said 754 ballot box committee chairmen were not public officials. Some heads were unemployed or had not specified their professions, while there were one of each of the following: Retired public officer, private hospital employee, retired teacher, teacher at private education institution, financial adviser, corporate employee, accountant, cargo company employee, private bank employee, lawyer, driving school employee and engineer.
The election law says that ballot box chairs must be selected from official civil servants.
The reasoning said that given the difference was only 13,729 votes between the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu and ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) candidate Binali Yıldırım, the issue of 754 ballot box chairman serving illegally could not be allowed.
"Some 212,276 electorates voted in the 754 ballot boxes, under illegally picked officials, and the vote difference between the CHP and AK Party candidates was just is 13,729," the statement said, adding that the work of the members of these ballot boxing committees cannot be trusted and was determined to have a major impact in the election results.
Out of those dismissed from public office by decree, six were ballot box committee chairmen and three were ballot box officials. The YSK said there was no previous decision setting a precedent on the matter.
The reasoning went on to say: "There are seven times more public officials in Istanbul than those needed as balloting committee chairman. This being the case, the district election boards' selection of balloting committee chairmen out of the lists provided by the administrative chief annihilated the credibility of the election."
"The metropolitan municipality elections involved a total of 31,186 ballot boxes in Istanbul. A chairman, a public official main member and a public official substitute member should be determined for these boxes. This means that in Istanbul, for the metropolitan municipality mayor elections, a total of 93,558 public officers are needed," the reasoning expressed. It added that in Istanbul, there are approximately 220,000 public officials in total, 12,259 of whom are courthouse personnel while 108,472 others are teachers in state schools, implying that there are more than enough public officers in the province which makes it needless to use non-public officer members in ballot boxing committees.
"The number of suspect votes caused by the material mistakes and/or intentional mistakes on the voter lists and the ones whose correct situation could not be determined due to illicitness were detected as above 300,000, while this number was determined to be approximately 20 times more than the vote difference of 13,742 votes between the candidates of the AK Party," the reasoning said.
"According to the reviews by the district electoral boards, it was determined that 377 people under restrictions voted, that in six ballot boxes, votes on behalf of deceased people were cast, that in 41 penal institutions votes were cast on behalf of prisoners and inmates that committed negligent offenses, that in 58 ballot boxes votes were cast on behalf of prisoners held in penal institutions, and that 224 people with mental disabilities who were not allowed to vote indeed voted. After the reviews, it was determined that 706 people who weren't allowed to vote illegally voted," the reasoning continued. It is expressed that the number of people who should not have voted because of the aforementioned reasons is 706 and when combined with the illegal ballot box chairmen, this situation creates mistrust toward the elections and their security, which eventually led to the annulment of the elections.
The reasoning also pointed at the fact that when it comes to voter eligibility, YSK has the right to evaluate only the objections that are made within the period of ordinary and extraordinary objection periods.
Voting tally sheets
According to the reasoning, in order for an election counting to result in a healthy way, the counting should be done in accordance with the law and these counting should be processed to the voting tally sheets. When there are no voting tally sheets that have been processed in regulation with the law, the parties or candidates cannot claim that they received any number of votes that were processed legally.
The YSK said investigations of İBB ballot boxes found voting tally sheets that had not been filled in the districts of Ataşehir, Beykoz, Beylikdüzü, Esenyurt, Gaziosmanpaşa, Kadıköy, Kartal, Sancaktepe, Sarıyer, Şile and Zeytinburnu.
"In Istanbul, it is determined that 18 ballot boxes had no voting tally sheets at all while in 90 ballot boxes, the voting tally sheets were not signed by the ballot boxing committee. The numbers of electorates who voted in 108 ballot boxes that had no voting tally sheets or sheets that are unsigned are 30,281," the reasoning said, underlining that the fact that one of the main factors in determining the election results, the voting tally sheets, have not been issued regularly in 108 ballot boxes damages the election security dramatically. Yet, it also added that this irregularity alone is not enough to make an effect on the election result which is why it is evaluated alongside with the illegal ballot boxing committee chairmen as well.
Mustafakemalpaşa not set precedent to Istanbul
The top election body also responded to the criticisms from the opposition parties, which pointed at the case in Bursa province's Mustafakemalpaşa district, claiming that it sets a precedent to Istanbul while going against the cancellation of the elections in the commercial capital.
Regarding the decision to not to cancel elections in Mustafakemalpaşa amid Good Party (İP)'s objections, YSK said previously that the reason behind the decision is the fact that the objections regarding the formation of the ballot boxing committees should have been done until March 2 and the objections after that are not being evaluated. İP's objections were also saying that since the committee's chairmen were working at the municipalities, their objectivity cannot be assured which necessitates the annulment of the elections.
In its reasoning, the YSK said that the reason why the same objection has been evaluated when it comes to Istanbul is the fact that parties have not been able to use their objection period effectively since the committee lists were not given to the political parties beforehand. Besides, since it was determined that the chairmen of the ballot box committees were public officials who were working in the municipalities and there was nothing against the law in the case of Mustafakemalpaşa. Thus, the top election body stated that it cannot set a precedent for Istanbul.
June 24 elections
Following the amendment of the law on March 13, 2018, which required the presence of official civil servants in ballot box committees, the first elections were presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, 2018. Due to the absence of any objection against the formation of ballot box committees and chairs following the announcement of election results, any legal evaluation about that did not take place.
When the March 31 elections in Istanbul were canceled, opposition figures objected to last year's June 24 elections as well, saying that similar irregularities, especially the illegal ballot boxing committee chairmen, could have also taken place in those elections as well. However, the YSK did not evaluate the objection since it has long passed that election's objection period.
Justified Decision Explained in 12 Questions
Why did the YSK only annul the elections for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality?
In addition to the YSK's authority on an individual's eligibility to be elected, the YSK has the authority to evaluate ordinary and extraordinary objections submitted in specified time periods to dispute the election results. These evaluations are limited to the elections mentioned in the objections and on March 31, the objections only addressed the mayoral election.
Is it mandatory for ballot box chairs to be official civil servants?
The election law says that ballot box chairs must be selected from official civil servants. Regulations set by lawmakers make it obligatory for district election boards to follow this rule during the formation of ballot box committees.
Was there a lack of official civil servants to assign to ballot box committees in Istanbul?
There were a total of 31,186 ballot boxes in Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality elections. This means that at least 93,558 official civil servants were needed during the metropolitan municipality elections in Istanbul. There are nearly 220,000 civil servants available in Istanbul, more than enough to serve as ballot box chairs.
Was there a justified reason for not assigning civil servants to the ballot box committees?
It is a legal obligation to select ballot box chairs from among official civil servants.
District election boards violated the legal regulation about the selection of ballot box chairs without any justified or legal reason. This is a violation of election safety.
Is it true that the formation of the ballot box committees was not objected to in the specified time period?
Although there are claims that ballot box committees, which were formed against the law, were not objected to before the specified deadline of March 2, lists of the chairs and members of these committees were not delivered to the political parties.
Thus, political parties could not use their right of objection efficiently during the specified period.
Why were the June 24 elections not annulled despite ballot box committees being formed in the same manner?
Following the amendment of the law on March 13, 2018, which required the presence of official civil servants in ballot box committees, the first elections were presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, 2018. Due to the absence of any objections against the formation of the ballot box committees and chairs following the announcement of the election's results, no legal evaluation took place.
Did the YSK decide against previous cases on the formation of ballot box committees?
The March 31 election was the second election following the amendment of the electoral law. Because it was the first time the YSK made a decision on objections against the formation of ballot box committees within the scope of the new law, there were no precedent cases that could have served as models.
How many assigned ballot box chairs did not meet the legal requirements?
In the reasoning, the YSK said 754 ballot box committee chairs were not official public servants. District election boards could not explain their reasons for these illegal appointments.
How many people who were dismissed from public service by decree laws oversaw ballot boxes?
Six people who were dismissed from public service by decree laws served as chairs for the ballot boxes, while three who were dismissed from public service by decree laws served as members for the ballot boxes committees
Did the 754 polls formed despite the legal requirements affect the results of the elections?
There were a total of 221,276 votes in those 754 polls formed against the legal requirements.
The vote gap between the CHP candidate and the AK Party candidate was 13,729 in the metropolitan municipality election. Considering these numbers, it can be said that those 754 polls, which were formed illegally, had the capacity to affect the election's results.
How many votes were cast in the ballot boxes without tally sheets or required signatures?
The YSK noted that 30,281 votes were cast in 108 ballot boxes that were legally invalid due to the lack of tally sheets or required signatures. In 18 ballot boxes, there were no tally sheets. In 90 ballot boxes, there were tally sheets without the required signatures.
Is it true that votes of ineligible voters were recorded as valid?
According to analyses conducted by district election boards, 377 ineligible voters cast their votes. Some people voted in place of deceased people in six ballot boxes, for detainees in 41 ballot boxes and for convicts in 58 polls. Also, 224 people who are mentally ineligible voted in the election.
A total of 706 votes cast by ineligible voters were recorded as valid.
Justified reasoning proves AK Party's arguments
Recep Özel, the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) representative in the YSK, said there was a clear legal requirement which was amended a few years ago and should have been followed. He also criticized the opposition for suggesting old rulings based on old laws.
In a statement on Twitter, Özel said, "Non-regulation of voting tally sheets in 108 polls seriously harmed the reliability of the election results."
Saying the unlawfulness and irregularities were caused by the appointment of ballot box chairs by violating the legal requirements, Özel said the YSK's justified reasoning proved their arguments.
Meanwhile, AK Party candidate Binali Yıldırım said the no mention of the AK Party's allegations that the votes were stolen in the justified reasoning, does not weaken their argument.
Speaking to Turkish broadcaster Habertürk, following the Supreme Election Council's (YSK) release of the reasoning, Yıldırım said, "They [YSK] could not write a party's discourse in the justified reasoning, we used this expression in public discourse."
Reminding the vote gap decreased to 13,000 from 29,000 during a recount of votes, Yıldırım said he could take at least 100,000 more if the votes were not stolen.
Also commenting on his allegation that some AK Party voters were not handed ballots, Yıldırım said there are many people who have concerns that their votes were not recorded: "I think that this happened to a large extent. There is other evidence that supports it."
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chairman Devlet Bahçeli said the MHP welcomed the YSK's justified reasoning. He added that the YSK exposed cheating and corruption in the polls.
CHP not satisfied with justified reasoning
The Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu said the Supreme Election Council's (YSK) justified decision meant nothing to him and there is not any justified reason in the so-called justified reasoning. Commenting on the release by the YSK, İmamoğlu said these 250 pages did not mean anything to him and described the justified reasoning as reasoning without justification. Reminding that the YSK worked for 17 days to write the justified reasoning, İmamoğlu also said that if YSK claims that these irregularities affected the election results, they should clearly explain statistics for us to understand how the election results were affected.
Underlining the reason that ballot box chairs were selected illegally, İmamoğlu said: Ballot box chairs not being civil servants is not an issue that voters can be held responsible for. "This decision punished 16 million citizens because of YSK's own mistake," he said.
The CHP Deputy Chairman Muharrem Erkek also criticized the YSK's justified ruling. Erkek said the first 12 pages of the 250-page justified reasoning is a summary of the AK Party's objection petition, the next 84 pages are the YSK's internal correspondence, the next 104 pages are responses of district election boards to the YSK and 38 pages are dissident opinions. "When you sum all it up, there are 12 pages remaining. Seven members of the YSK worked for 17 days to write a 12-page justification. Unfortunately, they could not write it properly," said Erkek and added that paints a bad picture for the state of law.