Ukraine

Chernivtsi mayoral runoff - no critical disruptions in election administration

 

On 29 November 2020, the second round of mayoral election was held in Chernivtsi. The vote took place at 115 polling stations, with approximately 185.5 thousand voters included in voter lists. Candidate Roman Klichuk (The Only Alternative party cell) competed with Vitalii Mykhailishyn (The Mykhailishyn Team party cell).

OPORA has realized long-term and short-term observation of the second round of  mayoral election in Chernivtsi. On the election day, OPORA deployed official observers to 60 polling stations in the city to ensure a representative assessment of the quality of election procedures and compliance with the law during the voting process.

According to OPORA, the second round in Chernivtsi was free from gross violations of electoral legislation. A short preparation for the second round and intense anti-epidemic measures in the country have decreased the scope of campaigning. However, candidates communicated quite actively with the voters even in such conditions. On the last Friday before the vote, candidates Roman Klichuk and Vitalii Mykhailishyn held a direct debate on the regional public media, providing voters with an opportunity to compare their election programs. Debating between candidates is a good democratic practice, which, unfortunately, has not been realized in most of Ukrainian cities.

Despite violations occurred rarely in the second round campaigning in Chernivtsi, this campaign demonstrates the need to further strengthen the legitimacy and democracy of local elections in Ukraine.

Thus, we detected public and anonymous dissemination of knowingly false information about competitors in the second round of vote. Black PR technologies were widely used in local elections, including Chernivtsi, what is caused to the certain extent by a growing role of social networks in local election campaigns. Smear campaigns, based on false or unconfirmed information, have limited voter awareness and complicated the meaningful discussions between election participants.

Direct or indirect abuses of administrative resources remain a key challenge to the democracy of local elections in Ukraine. For example, the Chernivtsi City Council took a decision to give allowances to socially disadvantaged population groups right before the election day, and this decision was initiated by one of the candidates. It is necessary to strengthen standards for preventing the use of public administration resources in electoral or political interests at the level of legislative amendments and the formation of political practices in Ukraine. A special attention should be paid to combating the abuse of budget resources, signs of which were detected during the campaign in Chernivtsi.

At the same time, we have seen from local elections in Chernivtsi, as well as in other communities of Ukraine, that it's necessary to control the adherence to the standards of democratic elections by representatives of business structures and organizations belonging to candidates. Politically active businesses, which has employees and financial resources, must respect restrictions on campaign financing and avoid any interference in the vote.

Taking into the consideration the conflicts present in determination of 25 October 2020 election outcomes by Chernivtsi City TEC, election administration this time was closely watched by the CEC, official observers, candidates, and other electoral subjects. On the last Saturday before the election day, the CEC issued a statement concerning the risks of destabilizing the second round in Chernivtsi due to rotations in PECs caused by the intentions of four party organizations to renounce their representation. The CEC disseminated such statement once it had received an appeal from four members of the city TEC expressing concern about the second round's organization. Although the expediency of the tone in CEC's statement has caused controversies, the oversight function realized by the highest election administration body helped to hold the second round properly.

Based on the observation results, OPORA states that the Chernivtsi city territorial and precinct election commissions have managed to avoid critical disruptions in election administration. We would also like to state that formation of PECs free from large-scale issues, which could hazard the vote, is a significant achievement of the state and election commissions in conditions of worsening pandemic. Nonetheless, the need to reform the election administration system is still acute. This reform should ensure professionalism of commission members and limit political influence on their activities. Another urgent need is to revise approaches to formation of PECs, which hold the second vote. The problem is that local party cells are not motivated to retain their representation in PECs if their candidates lose in the first round of mayoral election.

We have seen one more time that a number of procedural violations were quite typical on 29 November election. These violations are usually caused by peculiarities of how election administration bodies are formed, and the lack of incentives and effective approaches to professional growth of ordinary commission members, ensured by their nominating entities, while unregulated and unreasonable rotations occur. The practice of issuing ballots in the absence of legal grounds for such actions creates serious risks for manipulation and remains a key procedural violation on the election day. Recurring cases of disclosing the vote and ballot photography at polling stations undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of the election process and raise suspicions about the implementation of controlled voting technologies. Therefore, it is vitally important that electoral subjects ensure the mutual oversight, aimed to detect and respond to any procedural violations, and law-enforcement bodies guarantee that each fact is verified and an evidence base in formed to confirm or refute the use of vote rigging technologies.

Given the second round was held with harsh quarantine restrictions, which discourage voters to exercise active suffrage while being exposed to high personal health hazards, authorities should have made more efforts to realize explanatory and mobilization measures.

The violations detected by OPORA show that the state should realize a wide-scale awareness campaign for the voters and members of election commissions. This campaign should increase the efficiency of sanctions for non-compliance with the electoral legislation and prevent offenses caused by citizen incompetence on election matters.

Typical violations on the election day

On 29 November, OPORA observed the second round of mayoral election in Chernivtsi. We monitored each key electoral procedure in morning meetings, opening of precincts, the voting process, vote tabulation and transportation of precinct documents to territorial election commissions. OPORA has deployed observers to 60 polling stations in Chernivtsi, located evenly throughout the community. Before the observation, OPORA held 2 rounds of trainings and special Election Day simulations, involving possible situations and incidents. The observers were deployed based on random stratified sampling. The margin of error for different questions ranged from 5.75% to 10.52%. OPORA's statistically based observation is an independent activity, realized exclusively by OPORA, aimed to provide Independent information on the course of election and detect typical violations during the vote and counting.

The main problem OPORA' observers faced on the election day was violation of the procedure for issuing ballots to voters by members of election commissions. Observers detected such abuses at 15% of polling stations. As we can see, this is a well-established practice, often caused by low professionalism of individual election commission members and irresponsible attitude to formal procedures by electoral subjects, including voters. Regardless of the motives for such actions, such abuses are unacceptable given their potential consequences and the risks of negative impact on results of the vote. A similar type of violation was dominant in 25 October vote, when  such cases were detected at 10.04% of PECs. Thus, there is a need to take systematic measures before the  election day to prevent such abuses.

Just as often observers detected a problem on election day in Chernivtsi with disclosing the secret ballot by a voter showing a ballot and/or filling it outside a voting booth. Such cases occurred at 11.48% of polling stations, compared to 7.52% in the first round.

At 3.7% of polling stations, voters photographed their ballots. Although the overall frequency of such abuses lowered closer to the end of election day, each case of ballot photography requires additional scrutiny and careful study by law enforcement and election stakeholders, given the high likelihood of controlled voting and voter bribery technologies.

According to OPORA's observers, there were no attempts of ballot box stuffing during the election day. In general, PECs provided proper conditions for the maximum realization of citizen voting rights in difficult epidemic conditions, and the voting process itself was organized in line with key election procedures at all stages.

Observation over the preparatory sessions of commissions confirmed the lack of critical violations or any organizational issues that could challenge the lawful course of elections. However, during the repeated voting in Chernivtsi, there was an issue with securing the quorum at PEC sessions, and thus, a possibility for undermining their work because of large-scale rotations and revocations initiated by the nominating subjects. According to OPORA, at 9.84% of polling stations, PECs failed to secure the required quorum during the preparatory sessions (at 90.16% of polling stations, it was available). Moreover, a large part of PECs had certain procedural breaches in holding the preparatory sessions. At 22.41% of polling stations, PEC members did not provide for taking the minutes of the preparatory session that had to include the data on the election preparation process.

As of the closure moment of polling stations, observers have not documented any conflicts or deliberate violations on the part of commission members, or any unlawful interference with the course of elections. The issue with the full capacity of membership in the precinct election commissions at the final session concerned the 4.92% of PECs but the scale was not too big to suggest any systemic action intended to disrupt or destabilize the vote count.

Compared to previous election stages, the local situations had a better situation with access to vote count reports. In fact, observers have successfully accessed the protocol copies at all PECs, whereas, on October, 25, they faced certain issues with this procedure at 8.09% of PECs.

Overall, according to OPORA, observers, at 20% of polling stations (error 10.52%) PEC members made various procedural mistakes on the stage of the vote count. In the first round, the issues were found at 10.23% of PECs. At the same time, during the monitoring, no critical cases were identified of obstructing the vote count by candidates, party organizations’ authorized persons, candidate’s proxies, or observers. The PEC members have not used the option to include individual opinions into vote count reports in case they might have any concerns about the vote count.

Verified Violations of Electoral Law

On November, 29, 2020, observers of the Civil Network OPORA found and verified 109 violations of electoral law. 26 violations, 24% of the total scope, concerned the insufficient material and technical support. Most identified violations were related to the insufficient number of ballot boxes and voting booths. The same like in other cities of Ukraine, observers documented issues with accessibility of polling premises for people with disabilities. The large scale of the cases shows the need for the government to plan the feasible measures to increase the accessibility of polling facilities, their proper equipment within the available financial capacity.

The repeated voting for the city mayor of Chernivtsi faced attempts to illegally issue or receive ballot papers (7). They were often related to the down-to-earth reasons of perpetrators. The cases include issuance of ballot papers to citizens who failed to present the IDs foreseen by the Electoral Code, attempts to vote in place of a family member or another person. Regretful enough but there was a documented case of the PEC member voting for herself and for her son who stayed outside Ukraine, according to the preliminary data. The PEC member is risking the imprisonment from 5 to 7 years, deprived of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities for up to 5 years (Art. 158-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). At one polling station in the city, when receiving the ballot papers, two voters noticed the signatures of other persons near their names on the voter rolls. OPORA hereby states the need to investigate all incidents of illegal issuance or receipt of ballot papers, of voting in lieu of other persons, and to bring the offenders to justice. However, in our opinion, the application of sanctions shall be followed by a large-scale awareness campaign for voters and commission members. The campaign shall warn the citizens of Ukraine about the sanctions for the violations, and build a resenting social attitude for practices of voting instead of family members or other persons.

During the elections, OPORA observers registered cases when voters photographed their ballot papers (10). At certain polling stations, police officers identified that voters were taking pictures of the filled ballots showing the support to a certain candidate. Other cases of photographing the ballots were related to voters’ willingness to participate in a lottery awarding prizes, as part of a local campaign to activate voters. OPORA hereby commends the response of the National Police of Ukraine to voters attempting to take photos of their ballots, which played an important role in counteracting potential schemes of controlled voting and voter bribery. In some cases, voters also publicly showed their filled ballots, thus breaking the law requiring to secretly vote in voting booths (3 cases).

On the day of repeated voting, 6 cases were detected when the unauthorized persons stayed in the polling premises, regardless of the fact that the Electoral Code did not empower them to be there. In particular, the violations were related to representatives of exit-poll administrators, the staff of the State Emergency Service, the excessive number of allowed official observers from one candidate, etc. The cases did not include any elements of impacting the voting process, and they were one-ff episodes.

The organization’s representatives found 13 violations in the vote count at polling stations. Specifically, several PEC members were counting the ballots simultaneously, which prevented other PEC members and observers from controlling the vote count. Besides, some episodes were registered when PEC members had breaks in the vote count or broke the requirements for filling the vote count reports.

OPORA observers verified 9 episodes with elements of falsifying the election documents. Most cases concerned the practices of stating the wrong date in the vote count reports. It is related to the financial motivation of PEC members, willing to finish the operations on the next day following the election day. OPORA has been reiterating the request for the government to increase the remunerations to election commission members on a transparent basis, so that they did not have to tamper with the dates of drawing up the vote count reports. One episode concerned the fact of signing the protocol by PEC members before the vote count was completed at the polling station.

Other 33 verified episodes concerned the violation of requirements for keeping the minutes of the PEC preparatory sessions, ignoring the quorum requirements during the PEC sessions on election day, issuing ballot papers to voters by one PEC member, rather than two. In addition, there were some violations in the time to open polling stations established by the Electoral Code. Observers also made an important comment that members of some PECs were not aware of the number of members in their commissions, the reason being in frequent rotations.

Therefore, the violations covered by OPORA on election day and at the vote count stage show the need to enhance the measures administered by the government to improve training of election commission members and to increase the financial guarantees of their activities. Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine also needs to have a professional discussion on the mechanisms to provide for sustainable functioning of TECs and PECs, to restrict the rotations among members. The need to improve the election administration system became manifest on the stage of the second round that faced various challenges in the operations of TECs and PECs.

An important task of the government is to inform voters and election commission members about sanctions for breaking the law, especially in cases of illegal voting, unlawful issuance of ballot papers, or engagement of voters in the bribery schemes.

Voter Turnout on Election Day (according to the Civil Network OPORA)

On the election day of the second round of voting on November, 29, 2020, Civil Network OPORA was also administering the turnout of voters on the basis of the statistically representative number of polling stations for Chernivtsi city that had the organization’s official observers. The data was taken as of 12:00, 16:00 and 20:00.

Due to the difficult epidemiological situation and the quarantine restrictions, it was unsurprising to face the issue of low turnout at the second round.

According to OPORA, the turnout of voters in Chernivtsi, as of 20:00, was 23% (error – 2.17%). The overall turnout on October, 25, for Ukraine was much higher and stood at 35.94% (error – 1.14%). Similar low turnout (23.9%) was also found during the second round on November, 15.

In terms of the election day, the turnout of voters in Chernivtsi, as of 12:00 was 6.5% (error 0.75%), and at 16:00 it was 17.54% (error 1.73%).

 

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