Political Landscape

AAN Electoral Blog No. 17: Voter Turnout – stating the obvious


Some things are so obvious that you almost forget to mention them. This is one of them: voter turnout and what that tells us about voter engagement and the credibility of the elections. The answer is: very little.

The turnout figures which will be announced shortly after initial counting data has been gathered tell us how many ballots have been ticked and put into ballot boxes (and in some places where people run out of patience or sophistication even that step may be skipped). It does not tell us how many voters turned up to vote or how many voter cards each of them used. It does not tell us how many ballots were cast without voters present.

Turnout figures will also not tell us what proportion of the voters turned up. In 2004 UNAMA estimated that there were about 9.8 million voters in Afghanistan. At the end of the registration exercise 10.5 million voters were registered. After two voter registration updates – one in 2005 in the run-up to the Parliamentary and provincial council elections and one last year – the total number of voter cards in circulation reached 17 million, which is an amazingly implausible figure.

This means that if at the end of polling day for instance 10 million votes are cast, this is considered to be a turnout of 59%, out of a total of 17 million. But both figures are inflated. The number of actual voters holding a card may be closer to 14 or 12 million or 10 million (there is no real way of knowing), while the number of voters having actually turned up to vote may be closer to 8 million or 6 million or 4 million (again no real way of knowing, although observation of sites should give a clue).

It is going to take a lot of piecing together of local information to make sense of the figures once presented.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape