Lessons from the First Round of Voting
The Kherson Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, helped by its partners, for example, from the Youth Centre for Regional Development, observed the voting at polling stations in the Kherson region. Around 50 CVU members took part, working in all electoral districts. All observers acted as civic journalists of the newspaper “Free Choice”. Coordination and gathering of information was carried out by a “hot line” of the regional branch of CVU and three mobile groups. Other observers also provided information to the hot line.
The general consensus among CVU observers was that the voting was fair, but highlighted all possible dangers for the second round.
Election Day passed on the whole peacefully. In the morning at some polling stations, members of the electoral commissions tried to establish a “totalitarian” regime regarding treatment of observers, with attempts even to remove some of them. The accusations each time were absolutely absurd, with additional registration not foreseen by legislation being demanded. After the necessary explanations, all such incidents were resolved.
There were also cases in several districts of unlawful election campaigning. In one district, for example, the approaches to polling stations had red ribbons, while near many polling stations of the same (Skadovsk) district, there were “Emergency Gas Service” cars with pro-Yanukovych blue flags. These cars were even seen in villages where there has never been any gas. In Kherson leaflets were pasted up with images of Oleh Tyahnybok. Finally, in some buses and cars which at private individuals’ expense took voters to the polling stations, there were flags in support of Yanukovych. In one of the latter cases, on a comment from our observer, the bus driver immediately took down the advertisement.
The role of the police
At all elections there have usually been several cases where attempts by civic observers to have the law observed at polling stations have ended with the police removing them. According to our information, the voting on 17 passed without this regrettable tradition. There were attempts by members of the electoral commissions and some official observers to involve law enforcement officers in “dealing with noisy” civic activists, the police did not interfere with the electoral process, which is a good sign.
Mass rigging ahead?
CVU observers did not report any unlawful attempts by candidates’ teams or the authorities to interfere with the elections, although on the eve of voting there were fairly vocal statements from certain politicians about likely total vote-rigging.
According to some information, mainly from student hostels, there were preparations for mass buying of votes. These intentions, according to our observers, were not carried out. Incidentally, virtually the same situation occurred during the last presidential elections, when on the eve of the first round worrying cases were brought to the attention of observers regarding mass vote-rigging, with most of the information not being corroborated. Yet during the second round of voting, all such “home measures” were used with a vengeance.
It should also be noted that at some polling stations, official representatives, for example, of Yulia Tymoshenko, made attempts to obstruct independent civic observing. One authorized representative in the Kakhovsk electoral district, according to CVU information, tried to obstruct an international observer from carrying out their duties and in a private conversation even threatened him. In Kherson another observer from BYuT flagrantly obstructed a civic journalist (at polling station No. 66, district No. 185).
All conflicts were foreseeable
Unfortunately there were infringements during the elections, and quite a lot. All had been predicted back in summer last year when the new version of the Law “On the Presidential Elections” was being voted on.
This was first and foremost the possibility of mass inclusion of voters on the lists. According to CVU estimates, between 3 and 5 percent of voters were added at most polling stations on Election Day.
Then there were violations of the procedure for “home voting”. Commissions on a wide scale failed to even ask for statements from voters that they were unable to get to polling stations themselves. There were therefore cases where a person who at the commission’s wish should have voted at home, but actually voted at a polling station and effectively forced the members of the commission to break the law.
There was also a problem with the large number of voters who at the initiative of commissions and some candidate headquarters were included in the lists of home voters. Several weeks before 17 January elderly voters received visits from representatives of one candidate who took applications from them to vote at home, made copies of their internal passports and as a result on Election Day members of the commissions did not even have time to go around all the voters included by representatives of specific candidates on the lists of home voters.
Varied court rulings also added to the chaos. As a result, members of the commissions just in case refused to go to voters who didn’t have the full range of necessary certificates and justified this by their reluctance to “end up in prison”.
The greatest danger: inclusion of voters on the lists on Election Day
The main problem in this mass inclusion is that there was no possibility of checking whether these “new voters” had not been included somewhere else at another polling station (the new procedure, given the will, allowed for this).
There were a particularly large number of such inclusions where the departments for keeping the State Voter Register worked badly. For example, the students of an agricultural university in large numbers were left off the lists and included on Election Day itself. Many young people in other places also didn’t end up on the lists. There were a fair number of complaints about the register in the Suvorov district of Kherson.
There were also other cases. Our observers spoken, for example, with Valery Zveryev, who called himself a “human ghost”. Since 2004 he has not once been able to vote. Each time they refuse him on the grounds that he’s not on the voter list. This time was no exception.
The law clearly prohibited commissions from issuing decisions to include voters to the lists on Election Day. However members of the Central Election Commission [CEC], having found a “loophole”, insisted that it was possible to make such inclusions also according to verbal (!) instructions from members of district electoral commissions, and it was suggested that precinct commissions should include voters on the basis of registration according to place of resistance at the discretion of the heads of commissions. Electoral commissions thus ended up in a pretty difficult situation and unfortunately most of their members agreed to add all those asking. And this has immediately created grounds for declaring the voting at those polling stations invalid. It is depressing, but this situation suited all representatives of the candidates in the regions.
I would therefore like to thank all those commissions which clearly following the procedure for including voters on a checked list on Election Day. This was possible to do either according to a court ruling or through an official report from a department of the Vote Registrar.
CVU observers reported an increase in the number of examples of professional behaviour by members of electoral commissions in carrying out their duties. I watched with great pleasure the vote count at electoral precinct No. 13 district No. 185, which was under the control of Tamara Himlel. In almost 15 years of observing, that was the second example of such accurate work of a commission.
And that gives hope.
Dementiy Bily, Head of the Kherson Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU]