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 ( 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.


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.


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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How - and Why - to Spoil an Election #elect_ua14 #ukraine

Ukraine's election administrators, as well as domestic and international observers, face several vexing dilemmas with the upcoming presidential election. The occupation of Crimea, and ongoing provocations in Donetsk, Luhansk, and other parts of the east and south, generate significant logistical and political problems. In addition, Russian government interests may be well-served by an election process so problematic that it cannot be validated by outside observers. In this post, I explore tactics that could be used to undermine elections and interpret them in the current Ukrainian context.

Outside of any efforts to undermine the election's credibility, the official timetable has created tremendous logistical challenges. The announcement of a May snap election, with a shorter period for the formation of District Election Commissions (DEC) and Precinct Election Commissions (PEC), renders staffing and training difficult to accomplish. PEC officials are the front-line for credible elections as they are responsible for an orderly election day process. But, DEC and PEC staffing is not permanent. While veteran DEC and PEC members may participate in the election, recruiting and training new members and officers is a significant challenge. Further, the recruitment process opens the door to individuals who could facilitate sabotage.

Crimea's annexation and instability in Donetsk and Luhansk create further logistical problems. The CEC has announced that it will serve Crimean voters in Kherson, and this decision is probably the only reasonable choice. Ukrainian authorities maintain that Crimea is occupied, and its citizens should have the right to vote in Ukraine's elections. Russia has claimed Crimea as its own territory and will not permit polling stations to operate.* Setting up special polling places in Ukrainian-controlled territory close to the peninsula addresses this issue, in principle. In practice, however, with the announcement that even Mustafa Dzhemiliev is banned from entry into Crimea (a point disputed by Russian authorities), Crimean Tatars might hesitate to exit their homeland if the probability of return is low. In addition, it is likely that border crossings will be slowed on election day. Given all of the impediments, Crimean Tatar turnout in Kherson should be low.

Maintaining the security of the vote, and of the voters, will also be a challenge in Donetsk and Luhansk. Not only are government buildings occupied, but the status of law enforcement is in doubt. Groups of protesters advocating irredentism could easily disrupt the election process in these regions, and mobilization of protesters elsewhere could further undermine the ability of Ukrainian citizens to go to the polls. Other security challenges could occur, such as direct threats to candidates (even suspicious attacks on presidential candidates have a precedent in Ukraine**).

Public participation in the elections could be undermined by intimidation, not just from "green men," but also from other covert actors. Strategically, it would make more sense to stage intimidation in the east that could be attributed to Right Sector (Indeed, Ukrainian authorities allege that this has already occurred - with a meme in response). Intimidation of voters would not be limited to the east and south, but the tools are readily available there.

Staging and subsequently "discovering" vote fraud would also be advantageous to a narrative of a failed election. Standard methods that observers could not miss, such as ballot box stuffing and election commissions issuing biased decisions, would be valuable tools as they would be noted in official observer reports. Exploiting crowdsourced election observation to report carousels and other forms of vote buying taking place outside the polling stations is also possible. This tactic could co-opt civil society NGOs into validating staged allegations. While some of these methods may be employed by candidates seeking to win the election, incentives exist to manufacture fraud.

Beyond standard tactics of vote fraud and manipulation, more sophisticated methods could be employed to disrupt processing. Electronic systems are used by the CEC and other units to gather and tabulate election data, and to disseminate results. DDoS attacks, and methods of infiltration into CEC systems, could delay tabulation and publication of results. More insidious methods could corrupt election data, requiring recounts from paper ballots and protocols. Delays are often signals of manipulation, and could be interpreted in this way.

This election may produce an unusual election manipulation story. Perpetrators of fraud generally cheat to win, gather information, or send signals about the regime and opposition to various constituencies. Perpetrators of fraud in Ukraine's upcoming presidential election may have different motivations than we have typically encountered - intentional disruption of the process to call into question the competence and legitimacy of authorities.

A great advantage for those who would interfere with the election process is that blame attribution will not matter. If the elections are not deemed to be in line with international standards, then the legitimacy of the government in Kyiv can be further questioned. Moreover, a faulty process would enhance pressure on the EU and US to either disavow objective observer reports and deem the elections successful - lending further support to the Russian narrative of Western manipulation - or admit that the elections were unsuccessful and undermine the legitimacy of Ukraine's government.

As a concluding note, I am generally skeptical of broad conspiracy theories, as they often require a level of coordination and silence that is nearly impossible to achieve. This post is not a set of allegations, but rather a type of thought experiment. If political actors (in this case, the Russian government) had strong incentives to spoil an election (in this case, Ukraine's snap presidential election), what levers might they use? Elections have many moving parts, and the process presents vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Election administrators and observers may have an even higher bar to pass in the upcoming election than in any previous contest - not only must they conduct and monitor elections under less than ideal circumstances, but they have to carefully document and interpret allegations to distinguish fraud designed to benefit a candidate from fraud designed to undermine the process.***

*An option for Russia would be to offer Ukraine the opportunity to open special polling stations like those used for expatriate voters around the world. Of course, Ukraine would not accept such an offer as it would explicitly acknowledge Crimea's annexation.

**Natalya Vitrenko, a strongly anti-Western candidate, was injured by a grenade attack in the 1999 presidential campaign. Individuals associated with Socialist Party candidate Oleksandr Moroz, who was a more credible challenger to then-president Leonid Kuchma, were linked by officials to the attack. The incident was characterized as an intentional provocation to discredit Moroz.

***Given the history of Ukraine's elections, anomalies are likely even under the best of circumstances. Professional administration and vigilant observation are needed to undermine the incentives for prototypical fraud that may be present in the first and second rounds.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Effects of Partisan Election Administration

Nazar Boyko (Cifra Group) and I are presenting a research paper at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference that investigates how partisan staffing of polling stations affects election outcomes. We focus on the role of technical parties: formally registered parties whose primary purpose is not gaining seats for themselves, but rather assisting their patrons.* Political observers in Eastern Europe and Eurasia have argued that technical parties (and candidates) are ubiquitous and influential, but no research thus far has empirically classified them or evaluated their effects.

Our paper relies on extensive personnel data from Ukraine's 2012 parliamentary elections to identify the most active technical parties, connect technical parties to their patrons, and assess how the assignment of partisan polling station officers influences election outcomes. We find that the presence of technical party-affiliated officers is associated with improved outcomes for the Party of Regions and Batkivshchyna, but that the extent and magnitude of effects is greater for the Party of Regions.

The paper's bottom line is that electoral administration matters, and staffing practices can influence results. Partisan staffing of electoral management bodies, coupled with liberal registration rules permitting large numbers of parties to participate, creates strong incentives for major parties to influence decision-making through affiliated technical parties. The participation and influence of technical parties has the potential to undermine the perception that elections are managed in a free and fair manner.

A draft version of the paper is available for download; comments are welcome.

* Patrons are major parties or candidates contesting in the election who have especially close ties to technical parties.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Exceptional Results in the #Crimea #Referendum

Yesterday on Twitter, I sent an inquiry to the official Crimea Referendum account for information about the publication of referendum data, especially polling station level data. I have searched for the data and have not found it online, and my request was unanswered. I cobbled together a bit of information based on press releases, and have a couple of observations about the course of the elections.

The proportion of reported invalid ballots (0.72%) is low compared to earlier elections in Crimea (for example, earlier elections yielded invalidation rates of 2.9% in 1998, 3.6% in 1999, 3.7% in 2002, 1.5% in 2004, and 1.2% in 2010 for Crimean voters). Voters make mistakes, and they also intentionally invalidate ballots to send messages. While voter education, ballot complexity, and other factors influence the accuracy of ballot casting, it would be interesting to see the distribution of invalid ballots as 0.72% is quite low.

Turnout data also illustrate the exceptional nature of this vote. The figure below shows reported Crimean turnout in elections held from 1998-2014 at various reporting periods throughout the day. The referendum vote (red squares) even exceeds the falsified second round of the 2004 presidential election in turnout at every reporting period. Crimean voters were either incredibly mobilized to participate - far beyond any past election - or the results were artificially inflated.