Parliament on Monday passed an amendment to the election law to invalidate ballots that have symbols or drawings other than the check mark next to the candidate’s name.
The bill was passed unanimously with 53 MPs voting in favour.
The legal change comes ahead of parliamentary elections due to take place on April 6. Ballots with marks or scribbles were counted as valid in September’s presidential election.
According to Transparency Maldives, markings on ballots are “the main method of ensuring voters who were coerced or influenced through vote buying vote as pressured.”
The NGOs research showed 37 percent of voters participate in vote buying, nearly a third of whom use markings on the ballots. Additional markings were found in ballots at over 70 percent of polling stations in the 2018 presidential election, observers found.
The amendment to the general elections law was proposed by opposition Progressive Party of Maldives MP Mohamed Shahid, who cited the need to ensure secrecy of the ballot.
A similar amendment to invalidate ballot papers with markings or symbols was rejected by former ruling party lawmakers in November 2016.
In the wake of the last parliamentary elections in March 2014, the then-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party accused pro-government candidates of bribery and vote buying.
Some voters were asked to tag their ballot papers with a special mark or symbol for PPM observers and candidate representatives to identify their votes, the party alleged.
The party also challenged the results of three constituencies where the margin between MDP and PPM candidates was smaller than the number of tagged ballot papers identified by observers.
However, the High Court ruled that there were no grounds to annul the results and order a re-vote as the evidence submitted was not sufficient to prove electoral fraud.