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Iraq Out-of-Country Voting (OCV) Program

On 11 November the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This MoU authorized IOM to conduct an Out-of-Country Voting (OCV) Program on behalf, and under the supervision of the IECI. This Program enabled many Iraqis living abroad to participate in the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly Election which took place on 30 January 2005.

The IECI chose IOM for the implementation of the Iraq OCV Program based on IOM's considerable experience in organising such external voting programs. Since 1996, IOM has conducted OCV activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro) and East Timor. In 2004, IOM organised the largest refugee Out-of-Country Registration and Voting program ever held, which gave 850,000 Afghans residing in Pakistan and Iran the opportunity to take part in Afghanistan's first democratic election.

The Election

On 30 January elections were held for Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly. Members of the 275 seat Assembly were elected by proportional representation with a one year mandate. Their responsibilities include choosing a Presidency Council and drafting Iraq’s constitution. The constitution must then be ratified through a national referendum – scheduled to take place at the end of 2005. Governorate and regional elections were also scheduled to take place at the same time in Iraq (including the Kurdistan Assembly elections). In accordance with established external voting procedures Iraqis abroad were not be able to participate in these local government elections, only in the National Assembly Election.

Election Procedures

In order to participate in the National Assembly election, Iraqis first had to register. To be considered eligible, voters had to prove their identity, Iraqi nationality and have been born on or before 31 December 1986. Iraqis had to be able to prove their eligibility with at least two documents issued by a state, state agency or international institution.

Registration took place from 17 to 25 January. All successful registrants received a Registration Receipt which they then had to present, together with a photo ID, when returning to cast their ballot. Voters had to return to the same location where they registered to vote.
A one day Display Period coincided with the last day of Registration on 25 January, during which time the lists of registered Iraqis were available for supervised inspection.

Polling took place over three days, from 28 to 30 January. In order to avoid voters casting a ballot more than once, each voter had to sign the voters list and have a finger marked with indelible ink after casting their ballot.

After the final day of voting, all of the ballots cast were collected into the Count Centres Iraq OCV had established in each location where the Program was being conducted. The ballots were counted there and subsequently retained in country until the results of the election had been certified by the IECI. These Count Centres were managed by OCV staff specifically trained in counting procedures.

While IOM provided international election experts for the Iraq OCV Program, Iraqis were recruited in each country to work as Advisors, Field Coordinators and Registration/Polling Officials.

Location of Operations

The Iraq OCV Program established its Headquarters in Amman, Jordan and set up Country Offices in each of the countries selected for operations. In some cases Field or Sub-Offices were opened to place registration and polling facilities closer to Iraqi communities.

The Iraq OCV Program was carried out in 14 countries identified by the IECI. While it was recognized that there are Iraqi populations in areas outside these countries, due to the short timeframe given to conduct the elections only a limited operation was deemed feasible. Registration and polling facilities were set up in the following cities:

Over 800 Registration and Polling Stations were set up in 75 locations worldwide. Registration Station opening hours initially ran from 08:00 to 17:00. From 20 January, however, the IECI decided to extend registration hours for the OCV Program - opening at 08:00 and closing now at 19:00 in all countries except the Netherlands.  Polling Station opening hours ran from 07:00 to 17:00 in all locations.

Iraqis residing in countries other than the 14 identified for operations were also able to register and vote in the facilities provided. It was recognized that such participation would be difficult due to distances involved and movement restrictions across international borders. The travel arrangements of individual voters were solely their own responsibility. Despite this, however, many expatriate Iraqis did undertake to travel considerable distances to be able to take part in this historic event.

Both registration and voting had to take place in-person. By-mail registration and voting were unfeasible due to the time constraints and the need for precise identification of eligible voters.

Although demographic data was limited and the absolute number of voters was only able to be known after registration had taken place, the program estimated that there could be as many as one million eligible voters across the 14 countries in which the OCV Program was conducted. This projected eligible population, and the fact that the event entailed significant security costs, led the IECI to set a US$92 million upper ceiling for the program’s expenditure.

Voter Education Campaign

Iraq OCV informed Iraqis about their right to participate in the election through extensive public awareness campaigns. The information and education campaigns included posters, pamphlets, radio and TV broadcasts, billboards, bus hoardings and community meetings.

To ensure that Iraqis around the world were aware of the registration and voting process, a Voter Information Centre was created. An innovative voter information tool, the Centre provided the Iraqi Diaspora with a direct link to the Iraq OCV Program. Contact could be made by phone, SMS text message, or e-mail. Trained Iraqi staff were available to answer questions in Arabic, English and Kurdish seven days a week from 5:00 am GMT to 11:00 pm GMT. The Internet site www.iraqocv.org was also updated regularly with voter information. Voters, interest groups and members of the media were encouraged to check the site daily for relevant information such us polling/registration locations, press releases, contact information and downloadable photos and audio/video files.

In organizing the Iraqi National Assembly election, Iraq OCV established strong contacts with the Iraqi community in all Iraq OCV host countries. National expatriate leaders and other community representatives were consulted on matters concerning the conduct of the Iraq OCV Program in those countries to pursue as broad a participation in the program as possible.