The sixth national elections are underway in Addis Abeba and voters have been standing in line since the crack of dawn to cast their ballots in what are the country's first elections in six years. Despite the enthusiasm from the early-rising voters, queues at polling stations are moving slowly with a low number of poll workers observed at stations around the capital.

Voters that arrived at a polling station located in the Laphto area in the morning have yet to cast their ballots. "I've been here since early this morning but the process seems very slow and I haven't voted yet. This is frustrating," said Belay Zerihin, one of the voters waiting for their turn at Polling Station 08, Nefas Silk District.

"There is a shortage of poll workers. I don't think the voting will end before 7pm if things go at the current pace," said Abraham Terecha, an observer at Polling Station 10/41 of Lideta District.

Indeed, the lines are moving slowly in many stations that Fortune visited and it is apparent that there simply are not enough poll workers facilitating the process. Initially, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) had planned to assign five poll workers to each station. However, several are operating with just three. This has been particularly problematic for areas with high voter turnout.

One such area is Polling Station 15 in Constituency 21/22 of Lideta District. Three workers have been deployed there but due to the high number of registered voters, civil society observers were asked to guide voters and assist the visually impaired and those that can not read in casting their ballots.

In Station 19 of Arada District around Addisu Gebeya, Zelalem W. Agegnehu , a representative of EZEMA party, voiced his concern that the poll workers should in no way be helping people cast their votes.

There have been other issues as well.

Logistics hurdles are visible in a station in Kolfe Qeranyo District. A ballot box was seen missing the labels placed to indicate which ballot box is for the parliamentary seat and which for regional council seats. Voters appeared confused initially, but later, poll workers resorted to posting a coloured piece of paper to indicate which is which.

In nine polling stations, voting was delayed late because of the 'irresponsible actions' of supervisors who did not show up to the stations at all, according to NEBE Chairwoman Birtukan Mideksa.

"The Board immediately took action and replaced them with 27 election supervisors," she said during a press briefing held at the Skylight Hotel earlier today.

Another recurring issue is the low number of ballot papers delivered to stations. In a station located in Lideta District where 776 people have registered, only 450 ballot papers for regional council seats were delivered. Similarly, in another station in the same District where 1,023 registered, only half the ballot papers needed were delivered.

The head of the station, Abel Mersha, told Fortune that he has reported the issue to the NEBE and is waiting to receive more papers as promised. In the Nifas Silk District, a ballot paper mismatch delayed voter registration for hours earlier in the day.

The Chairwoman has explained that the Board has not encountered a shortage of ballot papers for federal constituencies, however, she did admit that there was a shortage of ballot papers for regional constituencies.

There also appears to be a lot of confusion when it comes to voting for regional council candidates. In a station in Lideta, the poll workers incorrectly briefed voters to cast their votes for four city council candidates while the actual number should have been 14. The mishap was noticed and corrected quickly afterwards but only after 11 votes had been cast. A similar error also occurred in a station in the Kolfe Qeranyo District.

The cumbersomeness of voting for council seats has contributed to the slow pace noticed across the city. The process has been especially difficult for the elderly whose vision is blurred.

“We were shocked by the turnout of the elderly in the morning. Now it’s becoming more diverse,” said Zelalem, the EZEMA representative, at around 1:30pm.

For the Chairwoman, the most alarming issue is what is happening in the Amhara and SNNP regional states as observers of opposition groups are being harassed and prevented from doing their jobs. A blue box was robbed at Eba Debretsehay polling station in the Southern Regional State, according to Birtukan, who explained that the Board has reported the incident to the police.

Although not as significant as in the two regions, there were similar problems in Afar Region, according to her.

Regardless of the hiccups, voters are determined to see it out to the last even if it means getting caught in the rain currently pouring down over parts of the city.

Getaneh Tafa, a 34-year-old man voting for his third time, travelled all the way from Gurd Shola to Mesalemia to cast his ballot. He got to the station and lined up at around five in the morning. When Fortune spoke to him at around 9:30am, he expressed his frustration at the long lines and the slow voting process but highlighted his hope that these elections will be more free than those of previous years.

“Of course I’m excited to vote, I came all the way here,” he said.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 21,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1104]

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