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Unexpectedly High Turnout Hints of Fraud in Iraqi Vote

By Dexter Filkins 
and Robert Worth
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

Iraqi election officials said on Monday that they were investigating “unusually high” vote totals in 12 Shiite and Kurdish provinces, where as many 99 percent of the voters were reported to have cast ballots in favor of Iraq’s new constitution, raising the possibility that the results of Saturday’s referendum could be called into question.

In a statement released on Monday evening, the Independent Election Commission of Iraq said that the results of the Oct. 15 referendum would have to be delayed “a few days,” because the apparently high number of yes votes required that election workers “recheck, compare and audit” the results.

The statement made no mention of the possibility of fraud, but said that results were being re-examined to comply with internationally accepted standards. Election officials say that under those standards, voting procedures should be re-examined any time a candidate or a ballot question receives more than 90 percent of the vote. Members of the Iraqi commission declined to speak about the announcement, or gave no details. But one official with knowledge of the balloting said that the 12 provinces were either majority Shiite or Kurdish. Leaders from those communities strongly endorsed the proposed constitution. Some of those provinces, the official said, reported that 99 percent of the ballots counted were cast in favor of the constitution.

It’s difficult to imagine why any Shiite or Kurdish political leaders would even feel that they needed to resort to fraud. Together, the two groups largely support the constitution and make up about 80 percent of Iraq’s population.

None of the provinces cited for a closer look had Sunni majorities, the official said, although there were reports of similarly lopsided vote totals against the constitution in some Sunni areas.

“When you find consistently very, very high numbers, then that is cause for further checking,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the information. “Anything over 90 percent either way usually leads to further investigation.”

The announcement came as the results of Saturday’s referendum began to come into focus. About 10 million Iraqis cast ballots in the election, or about 64 percent of registered voters, said Barham Salih, the minister for planning. Preliminary results, he said, show that the constitution appears to have been approved by about 65 percent of Iraq’s voters.

But now those totals are being questioned.

Monday’s announcement seemed likely to trigger suspicions among many Iraqi voters, especially Sunnis, many of whom are deeply suspicious of the Shiite majority and of the Kurds. Such tensions could inhibit the delicate effort now underway to woo Iraq’s Sunni community, which forms the backbone of the insurgency, into the democratic process.

According to the statement, the election commission intended to re-examine many aspects of the balloting, including “examining random samples from ballot boxes,” the statement said.