Interim report before run-off elections: need to revise system for processing and publishing election data
Summary of interim report
The process of establishing voting results and the results of the local elections of October 20, 2020, being predictably long-running and not entirely transparent, has provoked excessive suspicion and sometimes reasonable criticism of the election administration bodies on the part of various election participants and voters, too. As of November 12, territorial election commissions established the results of almost all local elections, with the exception of certain local councils where the cases of electoral abuse and procedural violations were recorded. However, the lack of prompt, comprehensive and generalized information on the progress and results of the count has basically given rise to doubts regarding the integrity of the process, even in the absence of clear grounds for such conclusions. The responsibility and position of the CEC is crucial in such cases, however, its role and powers in these conditions are limited in the context of the effective system of local elections administration. Obviously, the system of collecting, processing, transmitting and publishing public electoral data needs to be revised and reformed with due regard to the negative experience of this election campaign and based on the results of a broad expert discussion.
According to OPORA observers’ assessment, the effectiveness of anti-epidemic measures remains at a low level at various stages of the electoral process, even where targeted recommendations and regulatory requirements have been developed to create appropriate conditions for the safe organization and conduct of the re-run vote in local elections. Shared responsibility of election organizers and public administrations at various levels and compliance with their commitment to ensure voter safety is a key guarantee for the exercise of electoral rights by the citizens in the context of COVID-19 spread.
The pre-election activity of the candidates for local mayors who reran on November 15 in seven cities of Ukraine is characterized by a significantly less intensive campaigning as compared to the previous stages of the campaign. This is due to the short timeframe of the electoral process, a decrease in the number of formal participants in the electoral competition, and a change in campaigning approaches in this context. The use of the internet and social networks remains the most popular form of campaigning, being often accompanied by black PR and misinformation of voters amid increased political confrontation between the candidates and their supporters. The role of covert campaigning in national media, in particular on leading national channels, has significantly increased, demonstrating the problem of unequal access of candidates to the media and non-transparency of the campaign budgets. Overall, the activity of political parties and candidates in social networks has significantly decreased after the voting day. Within two weeks, more than 4,000 advertising messages worth around USD 144,000 were posted on Facebook.
A special feature of all local electoral processes for re-voting is the active participation in the campaign of the parties and politicians who, though not being election participants, demonstrate commitment or support to one candidate and resort to direct criticism and propaganda against their opponents. Such actions are an element of democratic practices only unless they intend to deliberately provoke conflicts and polarize voters.
In the absence of obvious or repeated violations of the electoral legislation on the part of the candidates and parties participating at the second round, the problem of abuse of administrative resources, which falls within the scope of violation of international democratic standards, remains relevant. The incumbent mayors are active participants in the elections, and most of them continue to covertly use their status and powers for campaigning purposes.
The work of the territorial and precinct election commissions on preparing and conducting the repeat vote on November 15 has sometimes seen the commissions violating the legal deadlines for implementing electoral procedures (in particular, printing and transferring the ballots), but in general it was quite professional and well-organized. The impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the reduction of the number of election commissions, combined with mass replacement of the commission members by the entities that nominated them, may cause destabilization of the commission work at the stage of vote counting and establishing voting results. Conflicts and headline-making incidents during the establishment of voting results on October 25 expose vulnerability of the election commission members to unlawful influence on the part of political actors and point to the need for a comprehensive reform of the election administration system.
The 2020 local election campaigns have faced an inefficient system of election funds reporting and the absence of proper oversight by the territorial election commissions that lacked the necessary competence and practical skills to analyze the interim and final reports of the election fund managers, despite the respective responsibilities entrusted upon them.
Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, local state administrations, local self-governments and their officials:
- Ensure coordinated efforts to implement anti-epidemic measures aimed at maximizing the exercise of citizens’ electoral rights and preventing the spread of COVID-19 across Ukraine.
- Establish direct, transparent and effective communication with the election commissions in order to quickly assess their needs and respond to their requests regulated by the Government resolution and CEC recommendations.
Central Election Commission:
- Promptly collect information and ensure full publication of up-to-date data on the results of all elections on October 25, 2020, and the repeat vote.
National Police of Ukraine:
- Carry out prompt investigations and provide regular information to the citizens on the results of the investigation of possible fraud incidents at the stage of vote counting and establishing voting results, as well as the instances of violations during the repeat vote.