Sunday, October 12, 2014

Myths, Misconceptions, and Misdirections in the Ukrainian Conflict

I was recently invited by Professor Geir Flikke of the Department of Literature, Area Studies, and European Languages at the University of Oslo to make public presentations about the current conflict in Ukraine to various constituencies in Norway. The Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) presented a live stream of my remarks and the Q&A that followed the talk. The entire session is embedded below.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Spatial Variation in the Administration of Ukraine's 2014 Snap Presidential Election

In a forthcoming article in the journal Eurasian Geography and Economics (co-authored with Nazar Boyko and Roman Sverdan), we assess an unusual phenomenon in the staffing of Ukraine's polling stations during the 2014 snap presidential election. Partisanship is the key factor used to allocate commission positions, and historically candidates and parties have provided a full slate of administrators to manage election processes. However, in the snap presidential election, candidates did not supply adequate personnel, requiring District Electoral Commissions to step in and fill gaps. We assess regional and partisan explanations for variation in the level of personnel contributions. Notably, proximity to areas of conflict was not a significant factor explaining variation in staffing. Rather, candidates (especially with past connections to the Party of Regions) failed to mobilize staff members in certain regions of the country. In the paper (available here in draft form), we address how partisanship interacted with region, and evaluate how staffing practices affected election results.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Washington Post - Monkey Cage Blog on the Upcoming Parliamentary Elections in #Ukraine

As preparations move forward for the October 26 snap parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Nazar Boyko (CIFRA Group) and I evaluate challenges facing administrators, parties, and voters on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage Blog.

The published piece omitted a couple of acknowledgements. We thank Roman Sverdan (CIFRA Group) for the visualizations and Brian Mefford (Committee for Open Democracy) for election observation data.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Election Eve

The day before elections is "silent": all campaign materials are removed by municipal workers and campaign ads disappear from TV and radio. For election observers, it is a staging day. Most teams are deployed to their regions already; groups from the Committee for Open Democracy traveled to Dnipropetrivsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Odesa yesterday after the training session. I travel today to Cherkasy, a few hours south of Kyiv, to prepare for tomorrow's elections. In addition to the presidential election, important local elections are being held concurrently, including mayoral races in Cherkasy, Kyiv, and Odesa. CfOD is the largest international organization monitoring the local elections, so I received accreditation as an observer for both contests. Several important questions should be resolved tomorrow and into the early hours of Monday.

1) Will Petro Poroshenko win in the first round, or will a runoff be needed? Brian Mefford suggests that a first round Poroshenko victory is likely. Several polls indicate that Poroshenko should receive around 50% of the vote, but the tipping point for a first round win tends to fall within a standard margin of error for polls (I don't have all of the details on each of the polls to be more precise). Poroshenko should win a strong plurality, and a majority is not out of the question.

2) How many Ukrainian citizens have been disenfranchised? The annexation of Crimea and instability in Donetsk and Luhansk will dissuade a sizable contingent of voters from casting ballots. Violence and intimidation, at least on a large scale, currently appears to be contained. Just a few weeks ago it seemed destined to spread, so the more limited size of the conflict zone is a welcome development under the circumstances. If the status quo persists, Ukrainian authorities have the potential to implement a credible election in most of the country.

3) How much traditional fraud will occur? Insurgent occupation of PECs and DECs in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as theft and destruction of election equipment, is a type of "disruptive fraud" designed to undermine confidence in the election process. More traditional fraud - efforts to influence voters or the process to benefit a candidate - is also likely to occur (and Maidan Monitoring is once again conducting a crowdsourcing effort to gather reports of fraud). The most contentious races, like the mayoral contest in Odesa, may also produce the strongest evidence of fraud. Given conditions on the ground, notably the short-term disarray of the patronage networks that were associated with the Party of Regions and the strong expectation of a Poroshenko win, perpetrators of fraud may calculate that they will be better served by saving their resources until the next parliamentary election (which may occur early as well).

In much of Ukraine, the day of silence seems to have begun calmly. As election day draws even nearer, I hope that Alexis de Tocqueville's observation about US presidential elections from long ago is realized:

"As soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level: but who can refrain from astonishment at the causes of the storm."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is Ukraine Ready to Vote?: Washington Post/Monkey Cage Blog #elect_ua14 #вибори2014

My piece about Ukraine's election administration, part of an election note I am preparing for Electoral Studies, is online at the Washington Post's Monkey Cage Blog (http://ift.tt/1sH2grs). The Electoral Studies article will include additional information, notably an assessment of the competitors and the results. Below is some supplementary information that did not make it into the Monkey Cage entry, but may be a part of note.

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Competitors and Campaign 
Prior to the collapse of Viktor Yanukovych’s government, the political opposition discussed the possibility of endorsing a single candidate if an early election were to be held. After the election date was formally announced, it quickly became clear that the opposition would not fully coordinate. Former supporters of the Yanukovych government also split, with the Party of Regions endorsing a candidate who would contest alongside other members of the former ruling party.

Candidates were required to register by March 30, 2014 to gain access to the ballot. The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) officially registered 23 candidates. Only seven of the candidates were formally nominated by political parties, including prominent politicians such as Yuliya Tymoshenko (Batkivshchyna) and Oleh Tyahnybok (Svoboda). Of the fourteen candidates who filed as independents, several are linked to parties although they are not formally standing as party-nominated contestants. For example, Mykhailo Dobkin received the Party of Regions endorsement, but he is running without a formal party label.

Two prominent politicians who were expected to run, Vitaliy Klychko and Arseniy Yatseniuk, supported other candidates. Klychko decided to back the current presidential frontrunner, Petro Poroshenko, and instead run for mayor of Kyiv. Yatseniuk, whose party coalesced with Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna, stepped aside and supported Tymoshenko’s nomination. Three candidates withdrew from the race in early May after gaining ballot access. One of these former candidates, Oleh Tsarov, is associated with the separatist movement in the southern and eastern regions of the country. Two other candidates withdrew just over one week before the vote: Petro Symonenko, the Communist Party candidate, and Oleksandr Klymenko.

Campaign activity has been subdued. Pre-election polling by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) suggests that Petro Poroshenko, an entrepreneur known as the “Chocolate King”, enjoys a substantial lead over other competitors. The effective removal of around one million voters due to Crimea’s loss, and the potential for disruptions to voting for around four million additional voters in Donetsk and Luhansk, is likely to further dilute support for candidates associated with the ousted regime. While Poroshenko is currently the favorite to win the presidency, it is unclear if he will have enough support to win in the first round or if a runoff will be required. 

Conditions on the Ground
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is deploying the largest election observation mission, including approximately 100 long-term and 900 short-term observers. The CEC currently lists around 1,400 accredited international observers from fourteen organizations and six national delegations, as well as ten domestic observation groups. Given the recent experience with international observation missions in Azerbaijan, where many questionable organizations deemed the elections “free and fair” and only the OSCE challenged the credibility of the vote, the assessments themselves will also be under scrutiny and allegations of bias may emerge.

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In addition to the text that did not make it in the final version of the blog post, two maps that further illustrate issues with election administration were omitted and are displayed below. Like the maps published in the Monkey Cage, these are based on data from Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission, coded by Cifra staff, and designed by Roman Sverdan.

The first map shows how PEC officers have changed, and especially illustrates how DEC staffing has affected the distribution of candidate-affiliated officers. The withdrawal of candidates, especially Symonenko's late decision to leave the campaign on Friday, will affect the identity of replacements. Officers have agenda-setting powers, and the affiliations of DEC officials could influence who is selected to fill open positions in PECs. I will be assessing this phenomenon with Nazar Boyko after all of the data are collected and processed.   




The next map is an oblast-level visualization of PEC staffing problems. In the Monkey Cage entry, I noted that DECs supplemented staffing for PECs that were unable to fill their positions. The map below shows variation in DEC contributions to PEC staff with data aggregated to the oblast level. At this level, the challenges of staffing central and western polling stations are more apparent.



I will be observing the election with the Committee for Open Democracy's team (the full list of accredited observers from CfOD is on the CEC site). I plan to post updates about the election here and also on Twitter as @erikherron, with the caveat that I may have limited online access during my trip.