BEIRUT: The Interior Ministry is prepared to issue preprinted ballots for next year’s parliamentary elections regardless of the electoral system ultimately chosen, the head of the ministry’s election unit said Monday.
“The ministry is ready to issue pre-printed ballots under any electoral law – from our draft law [the government’s proposal], the 1960 law and the draft law based on 50 small districts,” said Gen. Elias Khoury, who heads the election unit.
The Interior Ministry official’s remarks came during a forum organized by Parliament’s secretariat and the National Democratic Institute on proposed electoral reforms, particularly voter secrecy and preprinted ballots.
Responding to concerns that fraud would be more likely with the use of preprinted ballots, Khoury said that each polling officer would be required to sign the back of the each ballot before handing it to the voter as a step to prevent fraud.
Outlining his ministry’s preparations, Khoury presented and distributed to attendees sample preprinted ballots that could be used under each of the draft election laws currently being studied by Parliament.
Attending the event were MPs Alain Aoun, Ghassan Moukheiber, Simon Abi Ramia and Gilbert Zwein from the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc and Lebanese Forces MP Shant Janjanian, along with Future Movement MPs Ahmad Fatfat and Khaled Zahraman.
Fatfat said that his bloc endorses preprinted ballots, but added that there are several details associated with their use that must be addressed.
The Future lawmaker objected to the Interior Ministry’s argument that, as the ministry needs time to prepare ballot-printing machines, all candidate lists should be announced 40 days ahead of the elections date.
“In the last elections, some lists were announced 48 hours ahead [of elections day],” he said. He also highlighted the fact that people in remote areas know little about preprinted ballots.
Khoury explained that owners of ballot-printing machines could finish the job within 20 or even 15 days, as long as the government ensures that payment is timely.
He added that the ministry would employ several methods to educate the public on preprinted ballots.
Parliament’s joint committees are currently discussing a draft law forwarded by the Cabinet which would divide the country into 13 medium-sized districts under a proportional representation system.
The committees have also received a draft election law presented by the Christian parties of the March 14 coalition that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system.
For its part, the Change and Reform bloc has forwarded a law by which every sect would be able to elect its own MPs with the adoption of proportional representation and the entirety of Lebanon as a single district.
Moukheiber voiced concern that the item in the Cabinet’s proposal mandating the use of preprinted ballots would not be passed by Parliament, as discussions are behind schedule. “We are still on item 5 [in the government’s draft law], technically in item 3 because we have yet to vote [on 3 and 4] as every time there is lack of quorum.”