102% Voter Turnout Does Not Compute

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Vienna-based body overseeing Bosnia's elections, has been forced to defend itself against claims by an independent monitoring group that turnout at Bosnia's elections appears to be an inscrutable 102 percent.

"Our role is [as an] accountant, not speculator," replies Jeff Fischer, the director general of Bosnia elections for the OSCE.

Analysts with the International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent monitoring group in Sarajevo, used OSCE voting figures to show substantially more people voted than were eligible, indicating ballot-box stuffing.

Mr. Fischer answers that the OSCE does not actually know how many people were eligible to vote: "2.9 million has been the operating figure of [eligible voters] we have been working with for for some time. But these figures lack precision."

Because the OSCE didn't know how many eligible voters have died since the last census, the figure of 2.9 million came from an estimated number of wartime deaths. The OSCE now says it may have miscalculated the total number of eligible voters on the 1991 census: 3.2 million, Fischer says, may be a more accurate number.

Until Sunday, the OSCE had used the figure of 2.9 million. More than 600,000 Bosnian refugees, entitled to vote by absentee ballot, did not, in theory bringing the total eligible voter pool down to 2.3 million.

But more than 2.6 million people voted in the elections last week.

Now the OSCE says that it may never know the real number of voters eligible for this election, because the former warring parties refuse to turn over lists that tell how many people died in the war.

The OSCE has yet to officially confirm the results of the election, including the three-member co-presidency.

Election monitors say that ballot-box stuffing could have gone undetected if someone was able to obtain the documents of those who had died in the war and whose names were still on the 1991 census list.

Analysis of voter numbers shows that voter turnout was particularly high on the Muslim side. Chris Bennett of the ICG says that the Muslim-led Party for Democratic Action might have stuffed ballot boxes in order to prevent the Bosnian Serb presidential candidate, Momcilo Krajisnik, from winning.

Observers here say that these allegations hurt a central purpose of the elections: to give electoral legitimacy to Bosnia's postwar leaders. The legitimacy of the new leaders, they say, may now be called into question.

"We screwed up," says one member of the OSCE Provisional Elections Committee privately.

A Western diplomat here says the OSCE is under pressure to legitimize the elections so that the NATO force can begin to withdraw in December.

Despite the election controversy, OSCE officials announced Saturday they would hold municipal-level elections Nov. 22 to 24.

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