Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Media Grossly Exaggerate Palestinian Voter Turnout

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Media Grossly Exaggerate Palestinian Voter Turnout

Article excerpt

HOW MANY PALESTINIANS in the occupied territories actually voted in the Jan. 9 election for president of the Palestinian Authority? Reports from several major news organizations are misleadingly stating or giving the impression that nearly 70 percent of potential Palestinian voters in the occupied territories voted. In fact, the number is well below 50 percent.

According to CNN.com:

"Election officials reported about 65 percent turnout among the 1.8 million voters. Earlier they had reported about 35 percent and extended the voting by two hours" ("Abbas declared victor in Palestinian election," , Jan. 10, 2004).

Los Angeles Times reporter James Gerstenzang wrote in an article on that newspaper's Web site:

"Few serious problems were reported in the voting, as voters braved a wintry chill to take part in the first election for Palestinian Authority president since 1996. The Central Election Commission (CEC) said turnout was at least 70 percent. Some commentators had said Abbas would need a turnout of two-thirds of the 1.8 million eligible voters to claim a broad mandate ("Bush: Abbas Welcome at White House," Los Angeles Times Web site, Jan. 10, 2005).

And, in an official statement, President Bush declared, "I am heartened by today's strong turnout in the Palestinian elections."

But official figures released by the CEC tell a very different story and demonstrate that major news organizations reporting such figures are failing to check facts and seem to lack a grasp of basic mathematics.

A total of 775,146 ballots were cast in the Jan. 9 poll, according to an official statement from the CEC giving the vote totals for each candidate in the election ("CEC Statement on the 2005 Presidential Election," CEC, Jan. 10, 2005).

At the end of polling, the head of the CEC, Dr. Hanna Nasir, told the media that "Approximately 70 percent of registered voters voted today...While approximately only 10 percent of unregistered voters turned out."

The distinction between registered and unregistered voters is crucial to understanding the actual turnout figure, but it is a distinction the media have failed to grasp. The CEC had made enormous efforts to register all eligible Palestinian voters in the run up to the election, but almost a third of eligible voters did not register or were unable to register. In an effort to boost low turnout, the CEC made a highly contested decision in the final hours of polling day to allow unregistered voters to cast ballots using only their identity cards, which raised fears of multiple voting. …

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