Carter Center said that sixteen of the 27 districts in which Carter Center observers were present provided full access to observers. The other 11 restricted access to varying degrees.
According to a press release issued by Cater Center, limiting observer access to this crucial aspect of the process is contrary to international standards, to the expressed intent of the ECN directives, and to the terms of observer accreditation. The presence of observers is integral to ensuring the transparency and integrity of an election, and provisions should always be in place to allow them adequate access
In its press statement on post-election statement detailing its findings related to Nepal’s vote-counting process, the Carter Center said these findings remain preliminary, pending the announcement of election results and the resolution of any disputes. A final report that includes recommendations to help strengthen the conduct of future elections in Nepal will be published in early 2018.
During the counting, Carter Center observer teams were present in 27 districts throughout Nepal, including Phase 1 and Phase 2 districts. In its statement, The Carter Center noted that in the counting centers where observers had sufficient access, counting took place in a manner that was generally consistent with international standards, despite widespread deviations from established procedures. However, a considerable number of counting centers restricted Carter Center observers’ access, limiting the transparency of the process.
The decision to hold the elections in two phases meant that ballot boxes from Phase 1 needed to be stored for 10 days before being opened, creating the risk of ballot-tampering. But in Phase 1 districts where Carter Center observers were present, ballot boxes were safely secured and were under the close scrutiny of political party agents. Carter Center observers reported no incidents related to the storage of Phase 1 ballot boxes.
After Phase 1 polling, the Election Commission of Nepal issued directives outlining official counting instructions. These were widely ignored, however, as most returning officers chose instead to work with political party agents to reach consensus on vote-counting procedures. In counting centers where Carter Center observers were present, the deviations from the directives were intended to increase efficiency and avoid possible grievances and did not compromise the integrity of the count. While these local-level agreements ensured overall acceptance of the process and results, they also led to inconsistencies, particularly regarding the determination of the validity of ballots.
Party and candidate agents were consistently present in the counting centers and followed the process closely. Party agents did not make substantive complaints about the conduct of counting in the centers where Carter Center observers were present.