Formation of commissions
The Central Election Commission and local organizations of political parties have properly realized their functions in regard to formation and staffing of key collegial bodies responsible for the organization of local elections on 25 October 2020 and overall election administration in oblasts, raions and cities.
On 10 August, the deadline established by the law, the Central Election Commission has formed all 22 oblast (except for Donetsk and Luhansk), 119 raion (except for the certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and the AR of Crimea), and 381 city election commissions. Besides that, it has formed 10 district election commissions in Kyiv. By the end of August, the newly formed district election commissions will form village and settlement election commissions, and the formation of precinct election commissions will become the final stage in the system of election administration bodies.
Territorial election commissions are permanent collegial bodies, which are responsible for the formation of election districts, registration of candidates, preparation of ballots and establishing the results of elections to the relevant council (oblast, raion, city, district in the city, settlement or village) and results of local mayoral elections, or election of village or settlement heads. TEC members will exercise their powers until the next regular elections and the formation of new election commissions, ie in fact for the entire term of local councils to be elected in October 2020.
Given the unprecedented number of nominees for membership in TECs (over 28,000), which is more than two times above the number of available seats (9,576), almost all commissions were formed in the maximum possible membership (18 people). Perechyn city TEC (Zakarpattia oblast) with 16 members, and Kitsman and Storozhynets city TECs (Chernivtsi oblast) with 17 members each are the exception. The maximum number of members in each commission provides a balanced party representation, and efficient distribution of functions between commission members. On the other hand, this may bring complications to discussions and decision-making, and even destabilize their functioning if rotations add on.
The Election Code defines three subjects entitled to nominate candidates to the territorial election commissions: 1) local cells of parties that have formed factions in the Verkhovna Rada of the current convocation - had the right to delegate two candidates to each commission; 2) local cells of parties that have concluded an agreement on political cooperation with a parliamentary group of MPs - one candidate each; 3) local cells of parties registered in the relevant administrative-territorial unit - one candidate each. Candidates from the first two subjects (parliamentary political parties) were included in the commissions on a mandatory basis, and from the other subjects (non-parliamentary political parties) - through the draw of lots, regulated by a separate CEC resolution. Thus, 12 of 18 seats (67%) in each territorial election commission were reserved for five factions and two parliamentary groups, and the rest 6 seats divided between all interested parties, including those represented in the Parliament.
It is not the first time that the law-maker has granted parliamentary factions and groups a priority in the formation of territorial election commissions. A similar approach to the formation of commissions has already been used during previous election campaigns in Ukraine. For example, in 2015 regular local elections, parties that were represented in the Parliament could nominate two candidates to each TEC, and in 2010 - three candidates. However, giving parliamentary groups the same imperative right for commission formation as factions had, is a novelty. Given the legally uncertain role of parliamentary groups in the party system and the election process as a whole, such a legislative decision may result in a weakening of mutual party control and an increased politicization of election administration bodies.
In practice, parliamentary groups could nominate candidates to TECs via a political cooperation agreement with a political party. Thus, the Dovira group of MPs signed such an agreement with the Solidarity of Women of Ukraine party, and the For the Future group of MPs signed an agreement with a namesake political party "For the Future".
According to the results of the distribution of seats reserved for parliamentary political forces, it turned out that three parliamentary factions (their local party cells), namely European Solidarity, Servant of the People and Batkivshchyna, submitted two candidates to each of 532 territorial election commissions, formed by the CEC. The Opposition Platform - For Life faction also used almost all (96%) its quota on nomination of commission members. Instead, local cells of the Holos party submitted 716 out of the total number of candidates they could submit to TECs without participation in the draw of lots (2 in each of 532 commissions = 1,064), and thus formally used 67% of their quota. Parties that have concluded agreements with parliamentary groups have also in different ways exercised their right to delegate candidates to TECs: For the Future party has submitted one candidate to each of 532 TECs (using 100% of the quota), while Solidarity of Women of Ukraine - to more than half of commissions (309 or 58%).
Launch of TECs
(Based on the results of OPORA's monitoring of meetings at 115 of 552 election commissions)
TECs, that have been formed by the CEC were obliged to hold their first meetings not later than the second day after their formation. Taking into consideration that election commissions have been formed on August 10, TECs were supposed to hold their first meetings not later than August 12.
OPORA's representatives have observed the first meetings at 115 TECs, comprising 22 oblast, 31 raion and 60 city TECs. The publicity of these meetings was also guaranteed by journalists, which were present at 35 of 115 commissions, covered by OPORA's observation. The CEC has formed 532 commissions in total.
According to the Election Code, TEC members shall take an oath on the first meeting. If a member refuses taking the oath, it means the rejection of seat in commission. The quorum for TEC's meeting requires at least a half of its membership. All the TECs observed by OPORA comprised 18 members. Thus, there should be 10 persons on a meeting to gather the quorum.
OPORA's observation findings of the first meetings at 115 TECs are as follows:
According to estimated calculations from observers, 61 persons (almost 3% of members at covered TECs) refused to enter into office. Thus, 12 TECs did not gather the quorum at their first meetings and had to postpone the oath taking for the next meetings. There may be more such TECs in total, as long as OPORA did not observe the first meetings of all TECs formed by the CEC. Find more details about the first TEC meetings in territorial communities and regions on the OPORA's website, section “Regional News” https://www.oporaua.org/region-news.
Major challenges at the start of TEC functioning
The absence of regulations ensuring payment for TEC members before the official election process has impacted their motivation to work in such conditions. OPORA calls on state authorities to resolve the issue with remuneration for the work realized by commission members and employees in August 2020.
The uncertain procedure for activities of election commissions in conditions of COVID-19 remains a pressing challenge and requires specific and agreed decisions from the state. For example, during the first meetings of TECs, OPORA's representatives noticed newly-appointed commission members don't have face masks and disinfectants. Some election commissions have already officially addressed the authorities suggesting to provide the necessary items to members of election commissions (in particular, the Zhytomyr Oblast Territorial Election Commission).
OPORA welcomes efforts of the CEC developing the set of measures to ensure the safe working conditions of election commissions during the pandemic and calls on state authorities to provide them with everything they need in a timely manner. At the same time, we draw attention of the state that de facto restriction of the rights of electoral subjects, resulting from implementation of measures against the spread of COVID-19, is inadmissible, and must not replace the requirements of electoral legislation. Given the experience of holding elections in foreign countries, it is possible to both realize the election procedures comprehensively and implement measures to combat the pandemic.
These problems usually do emerge in Ukrainian elections and they are usually resolved during the work of election commissions. Unfortunately, members of some TECs had to either apply to government bodies for premisses or other means needed to do their job, or solve the problems themselves. For example, members of the Kaluha City TEC (Ivano-Frankivsk oblast) informed OPORA's observers that they purchased stationery, seals and TEC signs at their own expense. Members of the Ivano-Frankivsk commission also informed about the need to temporarily spend personal funds on the organization of TEC work. The Chernihiv City TEC, for its part, applied to the oblast council and the oblast state administration with a request to resolve problems with material and technical assistance. OPORA's representatives call on the authorities to promptly ensure proper conditions for the stable functioning of TECs in local elections.
OPORA calls on the authorities to urgently analyze the current situation and bring TEC premises in line with accessibility standards, ensuring inclusiveness of the election process.
To the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine:
To state authorities and local self-government bodies:
To political parties:
Reference: OPORA's observation is aimed to provide an unbiased assessment of election administration and process, facilitate free and fair election, and prevent violations. Civil Network OPORA has been realizing a wide-scale observation of regular local elections, to be held on October 25. We have deployed 188 observers nationwide, and short-term observers will join them on the Election Day. OPORA also monitors the use of budget resources for indirect campaigning, and civic ombudsmen inspect polling premises in terms of accessibility, as well as protect voting rights of citizens.
For more details on the formation of election commissions, see the full report by Civil Network OPORA below