Kyiv, Ukraine: Ukraine held special parliamentary elections to fill vacancies in seven districts on July 17, 2016. The Committee for Open Democracy (COD) was the largest , observer mission accredited by the Ukrainian Central Election Commission (CEC) and deployed observers to two key competitive districts in Chernihiv and Luhansk oblasts. While the vote counting and certification processes are continuing, COD offers several recommendations to improve the system moving forward.
The observers from Committee for Open Democracy found the voting day to largely be free of large scale fraud and manipulation. Almost 36% of voters participated in the process in the 1206 polling stations located in seven districts. However, loopholes in the election law created confusion which was taken advantage of by certain candidates and parties. Another problematic issue remains purchasing of votes in exchange for money and/or foodstuffs. “The highly competitive nature of these elections led to some parties and candidates zealously exploiting certain provisions of the law to their benefit. Nonetheless, the system worked and Ukraine passed another important electoral test by conducting these special elections – particularly in Luhansk district 114 which is on the border of Russian occupied parts of Ukraine” said Executive Director Brian Mefford.
Based on our observations and experience monitoring elections in Ukraine, the Committee for Open Democracy offers the following five recommendations to the Central Election Commission, Ukrainian Government, and Parliament:
1. Ukraine clearly needs a new, clear and unified election code to end confusion and discrepancies among the current presidential, parliament and local election laws. This reform will serve to consolidate the work of the election commissions and improve the transparency of election machinery and bolster public confidence in election administration. It is strongly recommended that Ukraine seek assistance from the election administration experts in the international community and develop a model system for election administration that will insulate local election administration from outside disruptions.
2. Ukraine needs an automatic recount provision in the electoral code for single mandate elections. This law should apply automatically to any election decided by two percent of the vote or less. In a country with a history of election fraud, the only way the voters, commissioners, observers, media and candidates can be confident in the outcome of elections is to have secondary confirmation of the initial results. By having an automatic recount provision in the law for any race in which the winner is decided by less than 2%, the process would be more transparent and fair for all parties involved. This is particularly true in Ivano Frankivsk district #85 where a small number of votes separate the leading candidates. For the voters to have confidence in elections it is important to get the result right even if extra resources and time must be expended.
3. Commissioners must provide official protocols to observers – both domestic and international. While this provision is already in the law, it is not always practiced. Therefore, commissioners who refuse to provide observers with official protocols should face fines and/or docking of their salaries to encourage full compliance.
4. Tighten rules for making changes to the composition of election commissions. Excessive changes disrupt the activity of the commissions and make them less efficient. This was an issue in numerous election commissions throughout the country and particularly in Luhansk where more than 200 commissioners were changed less than two hours before the start of voting. The law should be changed to require that any changes to the composition of election commissions be made no later than 48 hours before the start of voting. In addition, the abundance of technical parties and candidates exacerbates this problem. The presence of a record 107 candidates in Luhansk district 114 and 75 in Chernihiv district 206 was specifically due to the loophole in legislation that awards seats on commissions to candidates via a lottery system. Ukraine’s parliamentary election laws awards seats on commissions for each faction in parliament which is sensible, however awarding seats for candidates encourages the filing of technical candidates which are controlled by other parties. Thus, a higher bar for representation on commissions needs to be created for other parties to be represented, and the current lottery system should be abolished.
5. Use technology to accelerate the vote count. Vote counts by hand create opportunities for manipulation at worst and human error at best. Low cost scanners and/or voting machines can be used on a trial basis in future elections to eliminate such problems. In fact, such special elections are the ideal testing ground for the introduction of such technological advances to the electoral process. Long vote counts fatigue commissioners and create possibilities of making mistakes. Given the large number of close contests in single mandate districts, independent verification of the results is even more important and needed.
The Committee for Open Democracy compliments the Central Election Commission of Ukraine for their management of the election administration process. The Ukrainian people, the election commissioners and candidates also deserve mention for their work to conduct this election despite the difficulties. With the election soon to be certified, all parties, candidates and voters must accept the will of the voters and move forward to build a strong and stable Ukraine.
Since its founding in 2010, COD has observed 17 elections in seven countries including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Albania, Montenegro, Moldova, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. The Committee for Open Democracy is a not for profit organization specializing in election observation. Established in 2010 by professionals in the election observation and broader democracy and governance field, the Committee seeks to improve the pre-electoral environment with concrete recommendations, prevent election fraud in the pre-election period and on Election Day as well as contribute to the overall electoral environment in developing democracies.
The Committee for Open Democracy is an objective, non-profit organization that monitors and observes elections internationally for adherence to democratic standards of fairness, reflecting the will of the voters. More information can be found at www.committeeforopendemocracy.org, or their Facebook page.