New electronic system to speed up Iraqi election results: elections chief

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A new electronic system will deliver the results of Iraq’s upcoming national election within hours of polls closing, the country’s chief electoral officer said, a marked improvement from previous years when it took weeks to announce the outcome.

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Iraqis head to the polls on May 12 and will be using an electronic voting system for the first time.

“The results will be announced in hours, not days,” Riyadh al-Badran, the Chief Electoral Officer of the Independent High Electoral Commission, said in a Reuters interview at the commission’s headquarters in Baghdad.

“We will have results that accurately reflect the will of the voters,” Badran said, adding that the new system significantly limits the possibilities of voter fraud.

The upcoming election will be the fourth held since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. More than 24 million of Iraq’s 37 million people are eligible to vote next month.

Iraqi authorities hope to avoid the political tension caused by delays in reporting the results in previous elections.

Under the new system, which replaces the ink-stained fingers indicating who voted that became a symbol of post-Saddam democracy, Iraqi voters will insert ID cards into a machine which will link them to individual ballots using machine-readable codes. After voters mark the ballots, they put them into a scanner that will tally and record results.

The commission has been educating voters and training poll workers to familiarize them with it, said Badran, who gave Reuters correspondents a demonstration of the process.

Baghdad awarded Korean company Miru Systems a $135 million contract for the system, which includes around 70,000 devices to be used across the country, Badran said.

Aid groups have expressed concern that a system that relies on identity cards could make it difficult to vote for people displaced by the war to recapture territory from the Islamic State group.

Islamic State, which captured nearly a third of Iraq’s territory in 2014, was largely defeated in Iraq last year. But more than 2.3 million Iraqis - mostly Sunni Muslim Arabs, a minority in Iraq - are still internally displaced. Many lost or abandoned their identity documents during their flight.

Badran said displaced Iraqis with voting cards from previous elections can use them to vote. Those who are living in camps and have no cards will also be given other ways to prove their identities and get permission to vote.

“The commission has a special concern for this issue,” said Badran, who said fair representation was important so that parliament reflects Iraq society.

There are nearly 7,000 candidates running for 329 seats in 18 provinces using Iraq’s proportional representation system.

Iraqis abroad will be able to vote in 19 countries, including the United States, Britain and Canada.

Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Peter Graff