A major new factor in the 2018 elections is the huge increase in the number of postal voters at 133,795 postal voters out of a total 438,663 registered voters.
Of the 133,795 registered postal voters 31,267 will be using the postal ballot while the 97,870 will be using the postal facilitation booth.
In 2013, there were 79,698 people registered as postal voters but due to a two stage process at the time only 52,194 followed up and applied.
Of the 52,194 another 4,950 applications were rejected meaning that the final registered tally in the 2013 general elections was only 47,244. This meant that of the 381,790 total registered voters only 12.37 percent were postal voters.
Of the 47,244 there were 3,705 invalid postal ballots ensuring that only 44,259 postal ballots were counted in the 2013 general elections.
Even with such a reduced number the postal ballots ensured that it changed the results in five seats where the candidates had lost at the EVM. These seats were Khatoe-Lunana in Gasa, Monggar in Mongar, Dewathang-Gomdar in Samdrup Jongkhar, Kanglung-Samkhar-Udzorong in Trashigang and Khamdang-Ramjar in Trashiyangtse.
There were also many other seats where the race became tighter than expected due to the postal ballot votes going another way.
In the 2013 general elections the PDP got 58.4 percent of the postal ballot votes while the DPT got 41.6 percent. This was a bigger gap than the EVM votes of 54.1 percent for PDP and 45.9 percent for DPT indicating that a higher percentage of postal ballot voters wanted changed in 2013.
In 2008 the ECB at the time got 30,321 postal ballot applications for the National Assembly (NA) but around one third or 10,170 NA postal ballot applications were rejected due to mistakes.
In 2008 DPT won all the postal ballot votes in all 47 constituencies. Overall, at the time DPT secured 77.8% (13,320) of the total postal ballot votes and the PDP secured 22.2% (3,799) of the postal ballot votes.
In the 2008 polls postal ballot votes constituted 7 percent (17,119 votes) of the total votes cast and accepted in the 2008 NA elections.
The big difference in the 2018 postal voters is that the ECB over several elections has improved and simplified the process to register and use this facility ensuring larger participation and lesser rejected ballots.
This means that due to a simplified process the 133,795 voters registered for 2018 are the final registered list unlike in 2013 when people had to follow up.
Also due to higher voter awareness and experience there are much lesser errors expected in the 31,267 postal ballots.
On the other hand, the 97,870 voting from postal facilitation booths will see even lesser errors as it is a much simpler process almost akin to voting with a paper ballot.
The above figures mean that compared to around 7 percent in 2008 and 12.37 percent in 2013 the 2018 elections are seeing an unprecedented 30.50 percent postal voters.
The big increase in the 2018 NA elections like in the 2018 National Council elections has been due to the much simpler and easier postal facilitation booth where people can go and vote apart from higher voter awareness.
Apart from increased numbers the voter turnout in this category is usually higher due to the ease of voting meaning giving it bigger influence.
In the recent 2018 NC elections, of the 234,535 who voted it consisted of 64,912 postal votes which meant that postal votes were around 30 percent of the total votes cast.
The ECB spokesperson and head of the department of election, Sonam Tobgyal, said that the 133,795 postal voters would also consist of some first time voters.
The broad break up of the 133,795 postal voters would be 27,000 civil servants, around 7,000 corporate employees, around 12,000 armed forces personnel, their dependents or immediate family members, 3,568 overseas Bhutanese, 4,658 special needs postal voters, students, overseas voters and some sections of the private sector.
Sonam Tobgyal explained that this time around based on requests the postal voter facility was extended to all hotels, manufacturing industries, financial institutions and certain other sectors.
The highest postal voters are from Trashigang at 19,267 followed by Mongar at 12,786 and Pemagatshel at 11,536. The lowest three are 304 at Gasa and 2,023 at Haa and 2,536 at Thimphu.
In terms of postal facilitation booth, the highest voters will be predictably voting in Thimphu and consist of 35,551 postal facilitation booth voters of the total 97,870 postal facilitation booth voters. The second highest is at Chukha with 12,651.
The conventional political wisdom is that postal voters are generally educated, urban dwelling, more aware of what is happening and harder to sway.
The DNT President Lotay Tshering said, “My comfort on the postal voters are that they are educated people and their dependents. They know who they are voting for and there is no chance of manipulation through vouchers, beer etc.”
He said that postal voters have a better understanding of what is happening. At the same time, he said that all voters are important.
The DPT President Pema Gyamtsho said that the postal ballots had a huge impact in the 2013 polls. He said he is happy that the ECB has improved the procedure for postal voters and is better this time and that it would have a big impact this time around too.
He said, “Hopefully the postal counting system is transparent and there is cross checking as the problem lies in cross checking and certification of true ballots or not.”
Here the head of the department of election, Sonam Tobgyal said that firstly only registered postal voters are given the ballots. Secondly to ensure transparency party representatives are there to see the process from the receiving of the envelopes to the counting. Sonam pointed out that even international observers in the past had found the found the Bhutanese election system to be very efficient and transparent.
The DPT President expressed confidence that his party would get a majority of the postal votes.
The PDP President Tshering Tobgay said that the ECB has gone out of its way to help people to vote through postal ballots. “I applaud them as Bhutanese people are encouraged to vote and exercise their right to their franchise,” said the President.
Tshering Tobgay said that he was optimistic about postal votes as these voters would be more aware how the PDP served as a ruling party and they would be able to better understand PDP’s message of unity, stability and prosperity and also how PDP handled the economy.
He, however, said that all votes are important and every party needs a comprehensive mandate from all sections.
The BKP President despite calls and messages was not available for comment. The BKP Vice President Sonam Tobgay said, “People have the right to vote, EVM or postal ballot I am sure this election they will make the right choice.”