Election ink

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A voter showing a stained finger during the Iraqi election of 2005.

Electoral ink, indelible ink, electoral stain or phosphoric ink is a semi-permanent ink or dye that is applied to the forefinger (usually) of voters during elections in order to prevent electoral fraud such as double voting. It is an effective method for countries where identification documents for citizens are not always standardised or institutionalised. One of the more common election ink compositions is based on silver nitrate, which can produce a stain lasting several weeks. It was first used during the 1962 Indian general election, in Mysore State, now the modern-day state of Karnataka.


Electoral stain is used as an effective 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. 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 brush applicators, spray bottles, and marker pens.


Electoral stain typically contains a pigment for instant recognition, a 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. 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 are not transferred from voter to voter. Silver chloride can be easily removed by hydroxides, hence other photosensitive pigmentation needs to be added. Silver nitrate can cause a condition called argyria, although this requires frequent or extreme exposure.


Election stain typically stays on skin for 72–96 hours, lasting 2 to 4 weeks on the fingernail and cuticle area. The election ink used puts a permanent mark on the cuticle area which disappears only with the growth of new nail. It can take up to 4 months for the stain to be replaced completely by new nail growth. Stain with concentrations of silver nitrate higher than 18% have been found to have no added effect on stain longevity, as silver nitrate does not have a photosensitive reaction with live skin cells. This means that the stain will fade as new skin grows.[1] Silver nitrate is an irritant and is used as a cauterizing agent at concentrations of 25% or higher.[2]


Electoral stain is traditionally violet in colour, before the photosensitive element takes effect to leave a black or brown mark. However, for the 2005 Surinamese legislative election, 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.


Marker pens are the most efficient use of ink, with one 5 ml pen able to mark 600 people, although dipping bottles are often preferred, despite a 100 ml bottle only marking 1000.[citation needed] 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 2004 Afghan presidential election, allegations of electoral fraud arose around the use of indelible ink stains, which many claimed were easily washed off.[3] Election officials 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.[4]

In the 2008 Malaysian general election, the election authorities canceled the use of electoral stain a week before voters went to the polls,[5] saying it would be unconstitutional 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[6] in order to mark peoples' fingers before they had a chance to vote, thus denying them their rights.

During the 2008 Zimbabwean presidential election, 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.[7]

During the 2010 Afghan parliamentary election, the Taliban delivered night letters threatening to cut off anybody's finger who was marked with indelible ink.[8]

During the 2013 Malaysian general election, in light of the first ever implementation of Electoral Stain, voters reported that the ink could be easily washed off with running water, despite assurances by the Election Commission of Malaysia on the contrary.[9]

International use[edit]

Some of the countries that have used election ink at some point include:


  1. ^ "Chemical Safety Database". Ptcl.chem.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  2. ^ "Silver Nitrate and Wound Care: The Use of Chemical Cauterization". WoundSource. 2021-03-10. Retrieved 2021-11-01.
  3. ^ Baldauf, Scott. "An Afghan 'Hanging chad' Dispute". Csmonitor.com. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  4. ^ Raman, Sunil (2004-10-12). "India link to Afghan ink stink". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  5. ^ "MSN News article". News.my.msn.com. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  6. ^ Wong, Raphael (2008-03-05). "Ink Washout - The Star". Thestar.com.my. Archived from the original on 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  7. ^ "World | Africa | Tsvangirai rejects 'sham' ballot". BBC News. 2008-06-27. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  8. ^ Najafizada, Eltaf; Rupert, James (20 October 2010). "New Candidates May Win Half of Afghan Parliament Seats Amid Ballot Fraud". Bloomberg.
  9. ^ "Election ink under scrutiny in Malaysia - Asia-Pacific". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  10. ^ Boone, Jon (20 August 2009). "Afghanistan election ink safeguard fails detergent test". the Guardian.
  11. ^ "Skopje interested on the indedible ink used by Albania in the elections". www.balkaneu.com.
  12. ^ "An Algerian man, with ink applied on his forefinger, prepares to vote a polling station in the Chanot Park on April 12, 2014 in Marseille, southern France".
  13. ^ a b c Anne-Sofie Holm Gerhard, Melika Atic, Panto Letic and Peter Erben (2019). "Indelible Ink in Elections" (PDF). International Foundation for Electoral Systems. pp. 20–22. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-11-08.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ "Egypt elections in pictures". 24 May 2012 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  15. ^ Anand, Anu (17 April 2014). "Indian elections: voters united by anti-fraud ink mark". the Guardian.
  16. ^ "Key facts: the Indonesian Legislative Election". 8 April 2014.
  17. ^ "As Iraq moves on with vote, Falluja trapped by sins of the past". The Indian Express. 2018-05-13. Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  18. ^ Perry, Tom. "Sunni hawk wins Lebanon vote, risking new tensions".
  19. ^ "Remove Election Ink From Finger After Voting". www.miricitysharing.com.
  20. ^ "Ahead of GE14, EC orders 100,000 bottles of indelible ink from India - Malay Mail". www.malaymail.com.
  21. ^ "UNDP Provided Indelible Ink in Myanmar Elections: A Powerful Integrity Tool". UNDP in Myanmar.
  22. ^ "Observing Nepal's 2013 Constituent Assembly Election - Election Standards at The Carter Center". electionstandards.cartercenter.org.
  23. ^ "Nicaragua election observers report problems - CBC News".
  24. ^ "Election fraud: The curious case of magnetic ink - The Express Tribune". 10 October 2013.
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-08-16. Retrieved 2016-06-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  26. ^ "Hardliner claims Philippine election win". 9 May 2016 – via www.bbc.com.
  27. ^ http://www.oas.org/sap/docs/DECO/2010/SAINT_KITTS_NEVIS_JAN_25_2010.pdf
  28. ^ "A South African woman gets ink on her fi".
  29. ^ "Sri Lankan Voters Go To The Polls".
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-06-02. Retrieved 2016-05-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ "Syria holds parliamentary polls in regime-held areas".
  32. ^ "Tunisia veteran claims election win". 22 December 2014 – via www.bbc.com.
  33. ^ "The brief history of elections in Turkey".
  34. ^ "Venezuela's Socialists trounced in vote". 7 December 2015 – via www.bbc.com.
  35. ^ "CNE anunció que no usará tinta indeleble para la elección de la ANC". El Nacional. 10 July 2017. Archived from the original on 27 May 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018.

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