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October 30, 2010

Vote Counting Underway in Ivory Coast Presidential Election

by Scott Stearns

Vote counting is underway in Ivory Coast following Sunday's election to reunite the country eight years after the start of civil war.  

With the close of polling stations, Youssouf Bakayoko, the chairman of the country's Independent Electoral Commission, congratulated voters on taking part in this historic moment with calm.

Many polling stations in Abidjan opened late.  But when they did open, the process appeared to go smoothly with most people voting well before polls closed.

Vote counting began immediately, with electoral officials snipping the blue plastic security bands on ballot boxes and piling ballot papers on classroom desks in the presence of candidate representatives and, in some cases, international observers.

There has been some dispute about how the votes will be tallied.  The electoral commission last week announced that all votes would be counted by hand.  Prime Minister Guillaume Soro then announced they would be counted electronically by a company owned by a member of President Laurent Gbagbo's reelection campaign.

A compromise brokered by regional mediator Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore says the votes will be counted by hand and by machine, with a committee of independent experts overseeing the electronic count.

Prime Minister Soro says nothing that committee does will infringe on the authority of the electoral commission. The prime minister says the most important thing is that the electoral commission alone will announce the indisputable results of this poll.  With as many as 14 candidate representatives and eight other observers at each polling station, the prime minister says the counting of the vote will be transparent.  

Election observer John Stremlau is Vice President for Peace Programs at the Carter Center.  He says more important than the way the votes are counted is that everyone agrees on how they are counted and that all of the votes are counted the same way. "Let's have the election unfold according to the agreement and play within the rules agreed to.  That's all we can say," he said.

The electoral commission has three days to announce results.  But preliminary returns from more than 20,000 polling stations are expected to come in during the next several hours.  If none of the candidates wins more than half of the votes, there will be a runoff between the top two finishers.