Second Round of Iraqi Vote Tally Begins

Under the watch of armed Western security guards and monitors, Iraqi election workers are doing a second count of the country's historic vote, tapping at computer keyboards and sifting through bags of tally sheets.

Papers rustled and scissors snapped as elections employees standing behind a long counter plucked clear bags containing tally sheets from cardboard boxes on Tuesday.

"This is the new future," one election official said at the tallying center inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone (search).

This is the second phase of the count. On Monday afternoon, workers at polling centers nationwide finished an initial hand count of ballots from more than 5,200 precincts. Tally sheets and the ballots themselves were then trucked to Baghdad (search) under U.S. military escort.

On Tuesday morning, about 200 clerks here began logging data from the tally sheets into laptop computers for what could be the final count. In several shifts, they're working around the clock in the brightly lit room.

Several monitors sat quietly on one side of the room. Surveillance video cameras were installed in the hall, and television monitors showed another room where more tally sheets stuffed in clear plastic boxes were stored.

The image of workers manning the computers was projected onto one of the walls.

To make sure the numbers are accurately recorded, figures will be punched into computers twice by different people. A computer program will detect any discrepancies.

The individual ballots themselves are stored in secure warehouses and will only be recounted if the results are contested by political parties or managers of voting stations who have the original figures.

Final results could take up to 10 days, officials said, and they won't be certified until the end of a petitions period to file complaints that's expected to last about two weeks.

It could also be several days before officials announce turnout figures, election officials said.

Reporters were not allowed to talk to workers at the tallying center.

By Tuesday afternoon, workers had finished logging in results from three of Iraq's 18 provinces as well as many parts of Baghdad, officials said.

Monitors and advisers noted the inexperience of the Iraqi elections workers who are doing this for the first time in their lives.

But one of the monitors, Najm al-Rubaie, said that given the novelty of the process, the workers were doing a good job.

"There was a high level of organization and there was accuracy and transparency in tallying the results," said al-Rubaie, a spokesman for an umbrella group of non-governmental organizations called Ein.

Ein had about six observers in the tally center on Tuesday, al-Rubaie said.

Some politicians on Tuesday complained that many residents in largely Sunni Arab areas, such as Mosul and Hawija, weren't able to vote because there weren't enough ballots.

Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer acknowledged that tens of thousands of people may not have been able to vote in Mosul, Basra, Baghdad and Najaf because of ballot shortages.

The chairman of Iraq's electoral commission, Abdul-Hussein Hendawi, said the complaints would be investigated.

"You have to understand that the security situation in some of these areas was not perfect, therefore if there has been any inadequacy of numbers of voting sheets we are looking into that and we will announce the results of the investigation," he told reporters.

Hendawi said a team of three lawyers from outside the commission was put together to review all petitions. About 18 had been received by early Tuesday.

Commission official Hamdiya al-Husseini said there were also reports that in the northern city of Kirkuk some police officers took off with some of the ballots. She provided no further details.