Public Defender Sozar Subari said on April 4 that he had discovered “documented evidence” of ballot rigging at some polling stations during the January 5 presidential elections, which should result in the dismissal of Levan Tarkhnishvili, the chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Speaking at a news conference, Subari said that his office had studied video footage from CCTV cameras from twelve randomly selected polling stations in Kvemo Kartli, Shida Kartli and Samegrelo regions on election day. He said the CEC had refused to hand over footage from other polling stations.
Subari said there were discrepancies between the number of voters seen in the footage and the number indicated in the voter turnout figure given in the vote summary protocols. The probe had revealed, Subari said, that “the situation is alarming.”
“The material studied by us shows that the chairman [of the CEC], who allowed such wide-scale rigging [on January 5], should not be in charge of the election administration for the upcoming parliamentary elections,” Subari said at the press conference.
Discrepancies were revealed in eight out of twelve precincts investigated, Subari said. It was impossible to study the data from two polling stations because the CCTV camera at one had been turned off for four hours on election day and in another the camera hadn’t been working throughout the day, according to the public defender. He said that no discrepancies had been found in two of the polling stations probed.
The probe revealed, according to the public defender, that voter turnout at the eight polling stations had been inflated by 5,475 in total. Multiple voting, as well as other procedural violations, had also been observed, Subari said.
The public defender also criticized the CEC for delaying the release of the public information, saying it had delayed his own probe.
“We asked CEC Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili to release footage from all the CCTV cameras on January 15. He responded to our request on January 21 and said that it was impossible to copy the footage and instead proposed that we should watch the footage at the CEC. But it took a long time before we were able to watch the footage at the CEC. We also met with representatives of the firm from which the CEC purchased the equipment [referring to the CCTV cameras] and they told us that it was not a problem to copy recorded data,” Subari said. “On March 5 we again asked the CEC chairman and told him that the commission had the capacity to copy the footage… Only on March 10 when there was no pretext left for the CEC to refuse, did the CEC chairman respond by saying he would release the information requested by us. But despite this formal consent, artificial obstacles were created [by the CEC] to hinder the process of copying the data. After copying the data from twelve randomly selected polling stations we were prohibited from continuing the process.”
The CEC has rejected the public defender’s allegations, saying they were “not true.” CEC spokesperson Zurab Kachkachishvili said on April 4: “It was strange and unclear for us why these political statements were made [by the public defender] two months after watching this footage.”
In February the CEC refused to hand over to the Public Defender’s Office copies of signatures made by voters at some polling stations before they voted in the January 5 presidential election. The Public Defender’s Office wanted the data to study allegations that voter turnout in some regions was artificially inflated. The Public Defender’s Office said the refusal to hand over the information was a breach of the law and appealed to the courts. Tbilisi City Court, however, turned down the appeal.