Reporting from Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in Malaysia – For their 128th Session in Kuala Lumpur this week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rolled out some glitzy new voting technology, in the form of tablets, for the various secret ballot votes to take place. Yet on Saturday afternoon nine people were elected to the ethics commission using paper ballots from 80 members. The results had to be delivered several minutes later due to the manual tabulation.
After the new voting tablets successfully delivered results for the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games vote Friday when Lausanne defeated Brasov by a 71 to 10 count, things turned sour immediately. The voting began for the much anticipated 2022 Olympic Winter Games election where Beijing was considered a heavy favourite against Almaty, but some members had difficulties with their tablets and had to exchange them for spares. There were 85 members eligible to vote.
After several minutes of working through the issues the vote was finally declared closed. Then it was announced that due to technical difficulties there would be a second vote on paper ballots.
IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper told the delegates that there were issues with the exchange of the tablets and the scrutineers “are not comfortable with the integrity of the vote.”
The results of the first ballot were not released.
The second paper ballot vote rendered a narrower than expected 44 to 40 result in favour of Beijing, with a single abstention.
Then the conspiracy theories went viral through the halls of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and the nearby hotels where bid committees were celebrating the end of the their campaigns.
What was the result of the first vote?
Chief scrutineer Nicole Hoevertsz, IOC member from Aruba reportedly said “I was not confident with the integrity of the process.”
Then she assured “it was not a tie,” responding to a popular theory that had evolved.
Scrutineers for the IOC votes are IOC Members themselves. For Friday’s votes, along with Hoevertsz were Patrick Chamunda of Zambia and Frank Fredericks of Namibia assigned to the task. That’s at least three voters who knew the results of the first ballot before the second ballot was taken. That’s three voters who may have been influenced, or be able to influence vote change in the second round based on the first round results.
That’s also doesn’t take into account any voters who may have thrown courtesy votes behind Almaty only to switch to Beijing now believing the outcome is close.
When the issue was probed in a press briefing, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams assured that the firm Det Norske Veritas verified the results of the second ballot and confirmed the outcome. He said he believes a frequency issue with the tablets led to two devices being exchanged in the earlier 2020 bid race but when 11 were exchanged during the 2022 vote, it was decided that they should switch to pen and paper instead.
But there was no further explanation given about the initial electronic ballot that was first opened, then closed as per the process, which generated a vote count for the scrutineers.
At best, this incident cast some doubt on the integrity of the ballot. At worst, it changed the result.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.