Ukraine

Preliminary report on Kharkiv region by-elections

On March 15, 2020, voting took place at the interim elections of the people’s deputy of Ukraine in constituency 179. Civil Network OPORA conducted an independent non-party monitoring of all stages of the electoral process, including the election day, and the vote count.

Before the election day, OPORA noted a competitive nature of the election campaign that included at least 7 candidates for people’s deputies of Ukraine (out of the 40 registered candidates). Despite the intensity of the election process, withdrawal from the race of a candidate from the “Servant of the People” party reduced the level of political competition between the campaign runners. At the same time, voters mostly had all the opportunities to freely and unreservedly access the information about all electoral subjects, their political agendas, and the course of the campaign.

Candidates for the deputy mandate did not resort to bribery or other forms of material incentivization of voters, even though they did commit certain violations in the financing procedures and in the exercise of the election campaign. The electoral process was complicated in terms of organization since a large share of political parties and candidates refused to contribute to the formation of the DECs and PECs. The CEC provided due explanations and interpretations for provisions of the Law of Ukraine “On Election of People’s Deputies of Ukraine” regulating the interim elections for people’s deputies for the current parliament’s convocation. Not least important is the conflict-free enforcement of the CEC powers to register candidates. The task remained unresolved for providing smooth and professional operations of DECs and PECs, especially in the context of the low motivation of parties and candidates to engage in the commissions’ activities. Upon the whole, the DEC did provide for the exercise of most of its functions in electoral process administration, even though not without challenges, despite the rotations and rather conflicting working environment. 

On election day, 17 polling stations in the constituency were attended by OPORA observers, thus providing for continuous observation over DEC activities. 

According to OPORA, the voting process and the vote count at the interim elections of the people’s deputies of Ukraine were compliant with the basic democratic election standards, and with the national law requirements. Certain breaches are major but at the moment of publication of this report, there is no convincing evidence available about their organized or intended nature.

Pre-election campaigning at the interim elections of the people’s deputies of Ukraine finished at 24:00 on Friday, before the election day. However, the organizations’ observers recorded the breach of this statutory requirement. On election day, a record was taken of the campaign in favour of the candidates Kyrylo Oksen, Ihor Shvayka, Yuliya Svitlychna, Dmytro Avakin, and Olha Kovalenko. The violation took place due to incomplete compliance of community service providers and advertising agencies with the requirement to dismount campaigning materials from the advertising media or liquidate the installed materials from locations not provided by the law.

The electoral process was provided at 189 polling stations that opened without delays or impediments, and launched the voting process on time. 

OPORA representatives noticed the individual cases of failure to keep protocols of the PEC preparatory session. After observers brought it to notice, the organizational breaches were removed by the PEC members. 

Another common violation was the issuance of ballot papers by one PEC member, even though the law requires at least two PEC members exercising this task. Such breaches have been identified and terminated by OPORA observers at least at 6 polling stations in the constituency. OPORA observes interfered with attempts of PEC members of several polling stations to fill in some vote count rolls of the protocols or to sign them before the completion of voting, since it is a criminal offense. 

Interim elections of the people’s deputies of Ukraine showed the persisting practice of the previous elections to issue ballot papers to voters without presenting a national passport of Ukraine. Attempts to commit such offense were recorded at several polling stations in the constituency. Issuing a ballot paper to a voter without presenting an ID contains elements of breaking Article 158-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, punishable by the fine from 100 to 300 tax-exempt minimum incomes of citizens, or by correctional works for up to 2 years, or by imprisonment up to 3 years.

Random voters broke the secrecy of their individual voting when they exercised the expression of their will outside the polling booths. The cases testify yet another time to the need to enhance the awareness raising among the public.

OPORA observers reiterate the need to reinforce control of electoral subjects of future elections over the voting process at the place of voter’s stay. Despite the fact that the organization’s observers were not present during such type of voting, certain polling stations showed signs undermining the legitimacy of certain electoral procedures (such as at PEC No. 630558, election commission members managed to visit the incommensurable number of voters within the allocated time). 

During the vote count, PEC members usually did follow the law. According to provisional findings of OPORA observers, PEC members failed to avoid the mistakes in vote count protocols. It requires the production of more specific protocols at PEC sessions. Before the election day, the CEC decided to equip PECs with the software verifying the accuracy and completeness of vote count protocols data at the polling stations. As noted by observers, a large number of PECs did not have the software in question, and filled the protocols without the respective verification. 

Electoral law obliges PEC members in charge of transporting the documentation to the PEC to return to the sessions of their commissions to draft an updated vote count protocol. Protocols updates without holding the PEC session by individual commission members qualifies as the criminal offense entailing criminal liability. Regretfully, OPORA recorded a case with elements of unlawful production of the updated protocol by members of the PEC No. 630747, near the premises of the TEC on the night of March, 16, 2020. The organization observers request the law-enforcement bodies to clarify all the underlying circumstances of the case, and to respond resolutely to attempted updates of protocols by members of other PECs from the constituency. In addition, the organization hereby requests from the CEC to keep control over DEC activities until completion of all procedures establishing voting results in a one-mandate constituency.

Voter Turnout

According to the CEC official data received from the DEC via the “Elections” information analytical system, voter turnout was 27.47%. As compared to the 2019 special parliamentary elections in Ukraine in the same constituency, voter turnout has dropped by 23.54% (against 51.01%). On the nation-wide scale, voter turnout at the early parliamentary elections in Ukraine was 49.2%. 

Since 2014, it has been the 9th interim election of the people’s deputies of Ukraine in one-mandate constituencies. Voter turnout was lower than in constituency No. 179 in 2020, than at the interim elections of the people’s deputies in constituency No. 27 (Dnipropetrovsk oblast, 2016) and in constituency No. 183 (Kherson oblast, 2016). At this election, the voter turnout was 26.03% and 16.39%.

Comparison of voter turnout at the interim election of the people’s deputy of Ukraine in 2015-2020.

Constituency and oblast name

Voter turnout (%)

Year of interim election

№23 (Volyn)

48.8

2016

№27 (Dnipropetrovsk)

26.03

2016

№85 (Ivano-Frankivsk)

38.05

2016

№114 (Luhansk)

63.07

2016

№151 (Poltava)

34.19

2016

№183 (Kherson)

16.39

2016

№206 (Chernihiv)

34.64

2016

№205 (Chernihiv)

35.32

2015

Voters’ motivation to vote at the interim election of the people’s deputies of Ukraine in constituency No. 179 was affected by the threat of the coronavirus epidemics and the national campaign requesting to stay inside and keep social distancing. Another factor of a rather low voter turnout could be the decision of Viktoria Alekseychuk, a candidate from the largest parliamentary party “Servant of the People,” to withdraw from the ballot.

Recommendations

To Central Election Commission

- To provide due controls over the process of establishing voting results at the DEC level, and to be able to urgently interfere to resume the legitimacy of the process, if required.

- To publish the analysis of the experiment when the PEC verify the completeness and accuracy of the vote count protocol with the help of software.

To District Election Commission

- To provide for the uninterrupted control over legitimacy in drafting vote count protocols by PECs with the “Updated” notice, and to respond to the violations therefor.

To Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

- To improve the Code on Administrative Offense, the Criminal Code of Ukraine in order to provide for the irreversible nature of punishment for electoral fraud.

- To provide for rapid amendments of the Electoral Code in order to duly prepare for future local and national elections.

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