Marginal increase in turnout in the south and decrease in the west
The National Council elections and National Assembly elections in both 2008 and 2013 saw the highest turnout of voters from western and southern Bhutan with these two regions driving up turnout numbers.
In stark contrast the eastern Dzongkhags always lagged far behind with low turnouts and always drove down the national turnout averages.
However, the 2018 general elections have shown a dramatic change as the increased turnout of 71.46 % compared to 66.1 % in 2013 is mainly due to huge increases in turnout from the eastern Dzongkhags.
In contrast, the western Dzongkhags that usually have the highest turnouts saw reduced turnouts in all the Dzongkhags in 2018 compared to the 2013 polls.
The southern Dzongkhags who also are known for high turnouts maintained or only slightly increased their turnouts in 2018.
The big and overwhelming difference in the east has been made due to the huge increase of the postal ballot voters nationwide. In the 2013 polls there were only 44,259 postal votes cast compared to the 113,920 postal votes cast in 2018.
The biggest beneficiary of the increase in the postal ballots is the eastern Dzongkhags.
The huge postal numbers were made possible because unlike in 2013, a registered postal voter did not have to apply and could directly vote and more importantly they could avail the simpler postal facilitation booth services.
When the 2018 NA elections process started there were 133,795 registered postal voters.
Of this the eight eastern Dzongkhags of Lhuentse, Mongar, Pemagatshel, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Samdrupjongkhar, Bumthang and Zhemgang had 77,068 or 57.60 % of the postal voters.
As per ECB’s classification Bumthang, Zhemgang and Trongsa fall in the central region.
However, going by the geographical location, past voting trends and for classification purposes the article places Bumthang and Zhemgang in the eastern Dzongkhags and Trongsa in the west.
The five southern dzongkhags of Samtse, Tsirang, Dagana, Sarpang and Chukha had only 36,122 postal voters or 27 %.
The seven western Dzongkhags of Haa, Gasa, Paro, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Thimphu and Trongsa had 20,605 postal voters or 15.40% of the total.
Looking at the voting patterns of the 20 Dzongkhags, the postal voters in the western and southern Dzongkhags are only small part of the total vote as EVM votes dominate here.
However, in the case of the eastern Dzongkhags: Trashigang, Pemagatshel and Lhuentse have more postal voters than EVM voters. In the rest of the eastern Dzongkhags the postal voters and EVM voters are almost at the same numbers except for Bumthang where EVM voters are higher.
This is all relevant because in the 2018 polls the postal voter turnout was 85.01 percent at 113,920 votes while the EVM turnout was at 65.50 percent with 199,553 voters.
This means that Dzongkhags or regions with higher postal voters will naturally have higher turnout rates due to the ease of voting.
The easier postal facility systems and postal facilitation booth system in 2018 led to around a 150 % to even 180 % increase in registered postal voters in all 20 Dzongkhags.
The difference in the east is that the eastern Dzongkhags already had a high base of postal voters in 2013 and so when the numbers more than doubled and almost tripled then it benefitted the eastern Dzongkhags the most.
In 2013, of the 44,259 postal votes cast 26,390 or 59.62 were cast from the eight eastern Dzongkhags.
In 2018 of the 113,920 postal votes cast 66,584 or 58.44 came from the same eight eastern Dzongkhags.
The higher postal voters from the east not only reflects the higher numbers of voters from the east but also show the high level of migration from the east to urban areas, mostly in the west, and also the fact that a large majority of government employees are from the east.
The postal voters’ facility is given primarily to government employees and their dependents, though this time around the facility was extended to hotels and some big manufacturing industries.
In terms of the EVM votes the eight eastern Dzongkhags comprise 45 % of the registered voters, the five southern Dzongkhags comprise 34 % and the seven western Dzongkhags make up 21 % of the registered EVM voters.
In terms of the election results, DNT got 56.5 % of the EVM votes and 52.21 % of the postal votes while DPT got 43.4 % of the EVM votes and 47.7 % of the postal votes.