"Less than an hour after the voting began, some seven to eight ruling party men stormed the booth I was assigned to. Identifying themselves as Chhatra League and Jubo League activists, they tried to take the ballots away from me."
"When I protested, they told me, 'Do not create any scene. You do your job and let us do ours.' It was clear from their attitude that they would go to any length to do what they wanted."
"Helpless and shocked, I sought help from the law enforcers there, but to no avail. They then stamped on several ballot papers, stuffed them in the ballot boxes and left the scene."
This is how an election official described his experience at a polling station in Shailakupa municipality of Jhenidah during Wednesday's election there.
An assistant upazila education officer by profession, he was working as an assistant presiding officer at the Shailakupa Girls High School voting centre.
But the story did not end here.
During the vote counting, polling agents of the pro-Awami League candidates and the law enforcers forced him to add around 200 fake votes to the actual number of votes AL-nominated mayor candidate Kazi Ashraful Azam had got there.
"I refused to sign on the papers with the inflated figure of votes. But a policeman threatened me that he would file a false case against me and arrest me. So, I had to comply eventually," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Similar allegations were raised by the election officials of some other polling stations in the municipality.
Kazi Ashraful won the mayor election in Shailakupa with 15,108 votes while his nearest contender Khalilur Rahman from the BNP got 4,709.
In Bogra, a presiding official at Maltinagar Town Govt Primary School fainted when some 20-22 ruling party men stormed his booth brandishing arms.
"When I regained consciousness, my colleagues there told me that the cadres had stamped a huge number of ballots and stuffed those in the boxes," the official told The Daily Star.
"As a result, many voters had to return without casting their votes as their votes had already been cast," he added.
Over 50 Chhatra League and Jubo League activists went to the MM College polling centre in Jessore municipality the night before the voting day.
They took control of the centre and started stamping the ballot papers in favour of the ruling party-backed mayor candidate.
The policemen remained inactive and polling officials were too afraid to act.
"When they captured the centre and started stamping on the ballots, we were frightened because the law enforcers did not come forward to help us. We could not sleep for a moment that night," an assistant presiding officer told The Daily Star.
There were 2,719 male voters under the centre's jurisdiction and the number of ballots found in the voting boxes shows that each one of them had cast votes, something highly unusual, if not impossible, in a fair election.
"Most of the votes were cast even before the voting had begun," the polling official said.
Additional District Magistrate Sohel Hasan of the Bogra deputy commissioner's office later went there and seized the ballots.
He said he had gone there on information that the votes were counted even before the voting time ended.
The Election Commission has cancelled voting at the centre.
Similar irregularities were reported in dozens of other municipalities. The polling officials were threatened with physical, legal and political harassments if they refused to comply.
"When I refused to allow some ruling party activists from casting fake votes, they started branding me as an agent of the BNP-Jamaat," said a college lecturer, who was the presiding officer of a voting centre in Savar municipality elections.
"After what happened that day, I do not want to perform election duty ever again," he said yesterday.
Fearing reprisals, none of the election officials wanted to be named.