Vice Chief of the Elections Commission (EC), Ismail Habeeb, said that elections officials would have discretion in determining whether votes are valid or void, and the commission would not intervene in this process.
Over 4,000 void ballots were cast on Saturday's presidential election, while many have raised concerns about the criteria for deciding invalid votes.
During the press conference held on Tuesday, September 12, to address these concerns, Habeeb said that instructions to avoid scribbling or placing more than one tick on ballot papers were provided to ensure the secrecy of the vote.
"We condemn any actions that would compromise the secrecy of the ballot. If a ballot is marked differently from what was instructed, it becomes difficult to identify it as a valid ballot," Habeeb said.
Habeeb also said several individuals addressed this concern with documented proof, including pictures. He stressed that such conduct was outside EC's control, and the legal discretionary power fell on the heads of polling stations.
"The commission's members cannot coerce polling station heads to deem votes valid or invalid, and its not something the members can control. The legal authority for such decisions were with the polling station heads," Habeeb added.
Responding to queries regarding different protocols set in polling stations regarding invalid votes, Habeeb acknowledged complaints about it and said he believed such a scenario had been expected.
"The commission will never instruct regarding the valid or invalide votes. Regardless of the issue's significant, the decision is with the polling station head's discretion," Habeeb said.
Habeeb also assured that based on the observations made in the first round of the election, all areas requiring improvement would be rectified accordingly to ensure secrecy of the ballots.
He highlighted that priority will be given to provide training to election officials to ensure their conduct remains uniform across polling stations.