Election ink

Election ink

Election ink or electoral stain is a semi-permanent ink or dye that is applied to the forefinger (usually) of voting during elections in order to prevent electoral fraud such as double voting.


Electoral stain is used as a security feature to prevent double voting in elections. Ink is normally applied to the left hand index finger, especially to the cuticle where it is almost impossible to remove quickly. The ink normally remains visible for a minimum of 72 hours on skin, although it takes two or three weeks for the cuticle to be free of all signs of staining. Ink may be applied in a variety of ways, depending on circumstance and preference. The most common methods are via dipping bottles with sponge inserts, bottles with a brush applicators, spray bottles, and marker pens. With all methods the finger should be left to dry for 15-30 seconds and exposed to light before being cleaned to ensure the mark remains visible for the desired length of time.


Electoral stain typically contains a pigment for instant recognition, and silver nitrate which stains the skin on exposure to ultraviolet light, leaving a mark that is impossible to wash off and is only removed as external skin cells are replaced. Industry standard electoral inks contain 10%, 14% or 18% silver nitrate solution, depending on the length of time the mark is required to be visible for. Although normally water-based, electoral stains occasionally contain a solvent such as alcohol to allow for faster drying, especially when used with dipping bottles, which may also contain a biocide to ensure bacteria aren't transferred from voter to voter.


Election stain typically stays on skin for 72-96 hours, lasting 2 to 4 weeks on the fingernail and cuticle area. Stain with concentrations of silver nitrate higher than 18% have been found to have no effect on stain longevity, as even with stronger solutions silver nitrate doesn't have a photosensitive reaction on live skin cells. This means that the stain will wear off as new skin grows [ [http://ptcl.chem.ox.ac.uk/~hmc/hsci/chemicals/silver_nitrate.html "Chemical Safety Database"] ] . Silver nitrate is an irritant and frequently harmful at 25% solution and above, even being used as an effective, if painful, cauterizing agent in the treatment of rhinitis at that concentration [ [http://www.pakmedinet.com/10886 "PakMediNet"] ] . At 25% the silver nitrate content will also start to precipitate depending on conditions, forming fine crystals which can also be irritating on skin and reducing the active dissolved silver nitrate back to as low as 18%.


Electoral stain is traditionally violet in colour, before the photosensitive element takes effect to leave a black or brown mark. However for Surinamese legislative election, 2005, orange replaced violet as the colour for marking the voters' fingers as it was found to last just as long and be more appealing to voters as it resembled the national colours. In some parts of the world women stain their fingers violet for cosmetic reasons, meaning a different colour would be needed in such places to distinguish the marks and to ensure nobody was prevented from voting unfairly.


Marker pens are the most efficient use of ink, with one 5ml pen able to mark 600 people, although dipping bottles are often preferred despite a 100ml bottle only marking 1000. This may be due to the iconic images associated with the Iraqi and Afghan Elections of the early 21st century. Dipping bottles can leave a more comprehensive stain of slightly longer longevity (depending on silver nitrate content) than markers can. However marker pens are much cheaper and easier to transport, reducing costs to the election organisers considerably and the advised option when stains are only needed to be guaranteed for 3 to 5 days. Marker pens also leave a much smaller mark when properly applied, which is more agreeable to many voters.


In the Afghan presidential election, 2004, allegations of electoral fraud arose around the use of indelible ink stains, which many claimed they were easily able to wash off [ [http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1012/p06s01-wosc.html "An Afghan 'Hanging chad' Dispute"] ] . The election had chosen to use the more efficient marker pen option, however, regular marker pens were also sent out to polling stations which led to confusion and some people being marked with less permanent ink [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/3736590.stm "India link to Afghan ink stink"] ] .

In the Malaysian general election, 2008 the election authorities canceled the use of Electoral Stain a week before voters went to the polls [ [http://news.my.msn.com/regional/article.aspx?cp-documentid=1274414 "MSN News article"] ] saying it would be unconsitutional to prevent people from voting even if they had already had their fingers stained. Additionally they cited reports of ink being smuggled in from neighboring Thailand [ [http://thestar.com.my/election/story.asp?file=/2008/3/5/election2008/20540844&sec=Election2008&focus=1 "Ink Washout - The Star"] ] in order to mark peoples' fingers before they had a chance to vote, thus denying them their rights.

During the Zimbabwean presidential election, 2008, reports surfaced that those who had chosen not to vote were attacked and beaten by government sponsored mobs. The mobs attacked those without ink on their finger. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7478399.stm BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Tsvangirai rejects 'sham' ballot ] ]

International use

Some countries which have used Electoral stain in general elections include:

Burkina Faso,
Democratic Republic of the Congo,


* [http://www.ifesbuyersguide.com/search.php?keyword=ink IFES Buyers Guide]

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