As per the electoral laws, casting a fake vote in city corporation polls is a punishable offense and the offender can face a maximum of seven years in jail
Despite the fact that electoral laws allow only voters to enter polling booths to cast their vote, others inside the booths at polling centres to "assist" voters in casting their ballots was a key feature of the elections to Dhaka’s two city corporations held on February 1.
These unidentified people, in the guise of agents and supporters of the ruling party’s mayor and councillor candidates, tried influencing voters to cast their votes for the aspirants they were representing.
They were also found pressing the confirm buttons of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) before the voters did it themselves.
As per the electoral laws, casting a fake vote in city corporation polls is a punishable offense and the offender can face a maximum of seven years in jail.
But there have been no reports of such punishment being handed down to anyone over these incidents that occurred during the most recent and past elections to Dhaka city corporations.
The Election Commission, however, says they fine people for violating the laws, but they do not have complete information on such incidents during past polls or people who have been punished.
During Saturday’s polls, many people alleged that after they entered the polling centres, ruling party polling agents, alongside election officials, just took their fingerprints to confirm identities, but did not give them the chance to actually cast votes on the EVMs for their candidates of choice.
At AG Church School polling centre on New Eskaton Road, Moghbazar, one Sajidur Rahman found a youth from the ruling party candidates’ camp casting his vote inside the polling booth, right after he made it through the biometric identification process.
Another voter, Zahirul Islam, also went through a similar situation at the Kamrunnesa Girls' High School centre.
Like Sajidur and Zahirul, there were numerous media reports on scores of similar complaints from voters who could not vote for their candidates, while many alleged other people cast their votes for them. Photographs also showed men either entering or already inside the restricted polling booths alongside the voters.
Until on Tuesday, none of these people were held accountable or jailed for committing such an offense.
The law is clear
According to Section 22 of the City Corporation Election (Electronic Voting Machine) Rules 2019, no one can cast a fake vote at any polling centre where EVMs are being used. If a person violates this rule, he or she can face imprisonment for a minimum of six months to a maximum of seven years.
Also, Section 23 stipulates that the Election Commission will investigate the offender or file a criminal case against them.
However, a court will not be able to accept the case without a written complaint from the commission or a person authorized by the commission.
Cases will have to be filed within six months of the incident, and if that does not happen, no action can be taken against the offender, according to Section 24.
The Local Government (City Corporation) Election Rules 2010 also has provisions with the same punishments for casting fake votes.
EC doesn’t have all the data
Despite the laws and reports on violations, officials at the Election Commission’s legal affairs wing said they do not have complete information in these regards.
Forhad Ahmmed Khan, joint secretary (election management 2), said they do not compile this type of information as they are never disclosed to the public.
“Magistrates take legal action immediately on the field during the elections. Not all of them send the data to the commission every time they take action,” he said.
When asked whether anyone was punished in the past decade for casting fake votes, Forhad could not say, but added that magistrates do fine offenders.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) Secretary, Badiul Alam Majumdar, said he never heard of anybody who was punished for casting a fake vote or any other offense during elections over the past decade.
“In every election, all relevant stakeholders commit crimes, minor or major. The Election Commission is yet to conduct any investigation,” he said.
“The saddest part is that the referee, the Election Commission, is not playing its role. The commission should be tried first for speaking in favour of legalizing those incidents,” Badiul added.