Monday, November 5, 2012

Monkey Cage Post Update

As part of the collaboration between The Monkey Cage and Electoral Studies, I have posted the initial draft of my Election Note about Ukraine's parliamentary elections at TMC. I wrote the note a few days ago and final tabulations have slightly altered the results. With 99.95% of the protocols in the system, the results currently indicate:

PR Vote %
PR Seats
SMD Seats
Total Seats
Party of Regions30.0072115187
Communist Party13.1832032
United Center
People's Party
Oleg Lyashka Party


As I wrote in the version published at TMC, the math is daunting for the opposition and it remains so. Some members of the opposition have proposed refusing their mandates and UDAR is weighing its support of this option. Also since that time, the CEC, courts, parties, and other interested actors have weighed in on improper activities in the tabulation in some district commissions (such as the one I attended and described in an earlier post). It is possible still that some district races will be annulled and by-elections will be held, but the final decision is pending. In short, the post-election landscape is still shifting in Ukraine.

*The PR vote reflects the ballots cast for parties exceeding the 5% threshold. In other words, just under 7% of votes were "wasted." The seat allocations assume no elections will be annulled.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post-Election Report, Part 2 - Results

The Central Electoral Commission has not yet processed all of the protocols, but 98% are completed. At this point in time, the results are the following:

Party PR Vote % PR Seats SMD Seats Total Seats
Party of Regions 30.22 73 115 188
Batkivshchyna 25.37 61 43 104
UDAR 13.86 34 6 40
Communist Party 13.26 32 0 32
Svoboda 10.36 25 11 36
United Center
0 3 3
People's Party
0 2 2
Oleg Lyashka Party
0 1 1
0 1 1
0 43 43

Total 93.07 225 225 450

The final vote processing could change SMD results, so those totals may shift slightly. To form a coalition, the Party of Regions needs 38 deputies to reach the "magic number" of 226 for a majority.* Cooperation with the Communist Party will not be enough to establish a majority; Regions will need another party and/or independent candidates to sign on to the agreement. Batkivshchyna and Svoboda are not potential coalition partners, leaving only UDAR. The failure of UDAR to sign a pre-electoral coalition agreement with other parties certainly implies that it might be willing to negotiate with Regions, although some comments from the party suggest otherwise.

Negotiating with independent candidates will be costly for Regions, both in terms of resources and longer-term coalition stability. Independents will require payoffs to join and maintain allegiance to any coalition. While Regions has resources, this parliament is likely to be less stable and more contentious than the most recent convocations. The Rada may not return to the chaos of 1998 when the first task of selecting the speaker was a drawn-out and controversial process, proving to be a harbinger for the whole convocation, but it is likely to be more fractious than the last two convocations.

*The math for an opposition coalition is less promising. Batkivshchyna, UDAR, and Svoboda - if they could make an agreement - are still 46 seats shy of the number needed. Because the Communists are not a feasible partner, they would need to attract nearly all of the independents (which is essentially an impossible task).

Action in District 211

Yesterday, I visited the District Electoral Commission managing the compilation of votes for Constituency 211 in Ukraine's parliamentary election. The race has been tense and tight. At this moment, with 81% of the protocols completed, the Batkivshchyna candidate (Ter'okhin) leads the Party of Regions candidate (Lysov) by just over 1,800 votes. Because it is Wednesday, and the elections were held on Sunday, it would be reasonable to ask why the results are not yet finalized. My visit to the district provided me with valuable insight on this question.

When I arrived in the district around 1 pm, all was quiet. Observers are allowed to attend the meetings of the commission held in a small auditorium, so I sat in a front-row seat. I introduced myself to a polling station director who was awaiting the processing of his materials. Before polling station officers complete their work, it must be accepted by the District Electoral Commission. During our conversation, he had a visit from a frustrated colleague: the DEC* was rejecting their documents because the parties were not placed in the proper order on the protocols. He was especially annoyed because the DEC had been reviewing the materials for some time - why did it take them so long for this decision?

After he left to reconvene his polling station commission and re-write the documents (all protocols are hand-written), I struck up a conversation with a representative of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine. CVU is a well-established domestic NGO that monitors elections. He had been stationed at the DEC and told me that the initial processing was quite slow. The first polling station to turn in documents was a small hospital, and the DEC took several hours on its materials alone. When I asked him about other observations, he noted that he had received reports of vote buying in the outlying regions of Kyiv, but had no concrete evidence.

Mid-late afternoon, the action picked up. The DEC decided to re-convene its meeting to address several issues, including the disposition of materials from PEC 800029. The members of that commission were agitated, and I came upon a conversation they were having with other observers in the hallway before the meeting. They claimed that the DEC was attempting to alter their final results.

When the meeting began, a member of the DEC (I believe it was the deputy director) began to read a resolution that would call for recounts in around 29 polling stations. At this point, the meeting descended into chaos and protests. During the chaos, the PEC director climbed onto the stage, knocked off the top of the box containing her station's materials.

She and her colleagues loudly proclaimed that the DEC had illegally opened the boxes and were tampering with the contents. She eventually occupied a spot on the commission table and would later declare that she was going to begin a hunger strike.

As more chaos ensued, the militia arrived to clear the stage.

Eventually, the hall began chanting for the original protocols to be certified.

Apparently, one of the members of the DEC suffered a heart attack on the previous day and he returned from the hospital to participate in the voting. In addition, a member of parliament and the media arrived on the scene to participate or chronicle the goings-on. The candidate who is at the center of the controversy - Ter'okhin - also arrived, interacted with observers and the press, but was careful not to directly engage in the debate (as he indicated that it would be improper for him to personally interfere).

The DEC took a vote to rescind the decision to recount PEC 800029's results, but the vote to rescind failed. When I left the DEC around 7:30 pm, the PEC and DEC were locked in a standoff, with neither side willing to yield. Formally, the DEC voted to recount and the PEC, as well as others, were lodging complaints. As of this moment, the protocols for PEC 800029, and many others in DEC 211, are not yet uploaded to the CEC website.

What I witnessed was not theater, but a clash over the meaning of free and fair elections.

*I have used TEC and DEC in tweets and posts interchangeably. Territorial Electoral Commission is often used as a generic term for mid-level commissions. But, in Ukraine, the better acronym is DEC since the commissions are labeled District Electoral Commissions. Apologies for any confusion.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post-Election Report, Part 1 - Preliminary Results and Turnout

District electoral commissions continue to work through the protocols and report results to the Central Electoral Commission. As of 9:00 am (Kyiv time) on Tuesday, just over 86% of the results have been entered into the CEC database. Some districts have been slower than others and the failure to have more reports in at this point is a bit troubling. While the final results will vary a bit as those 14% are added to the final tally, the party list results have produced some interesting surprises. The party list vote thus far shows the following:

Party % #
Party of Regions 31.83% 5 554 712
Batkivshchyna 24.22% 4 226 529
Communist Party 13.88% 2 423 665
UDAR 13.47% 2 350 751
Svoboda 9.61 1 677 042
Ukraine Forward! 1.61% 282 037

Before addressing the surprises, a couple of comments on expectations that were fulfilled. The Party of Regions performed best on the list, followed by Batkivshchyna. Ukraine Forward! failed to pass the 5% threshold and Svoboda succeeded. UDAR, in a surprise, did not finish a solid third, but is currently in a virtual tie with the Communist Party. Klitschko had been receiving substantial attention in the days before the vote and his ascent to second place was considered to be a possibility. Instead, it appears that many opposition voters may have selected Svoboda as an alternative. Once the final results are in, I will address these issues in greater detail.

Because precinct electoral commissions are required to report on turnout throughout the day, the official reports on citizen activity should be much closer to final. Overall, turnout in parliamentary elections just about matched its post-Soviet nadir of 57.94% in 2007; turnout on Sunday is reported to be 57.98%. 

Turnout by District

Turnout data reveal some interesting regional patterns of activity, which suggest variation in mobilization success by competing forces. The map above shows district-level turnout across Ukraine as of 8pm on Sunday when the polls closed (using natural breaks (Jenks) for categories). Activity is notably stronger in western Ukraine (except Zakarpattya) through the central region to Kyiv, with scattered districts showing high levels of activity in Ukraine's east. At the oblast level, western Ukraine exhibits the highest level of mobilization, with L'viv (67%), Ternopil (67%), and Volyn (66%) leading the way. The lowest turnout was in Ukraine's south, with Crimea (49%), Odesa (50%), Sevastopol (50%), and Kherson (51%) at the bottom of the list. Given the level at which Ukrainian citizens express dissatisfaction in surveys with most politicians and institutions (see the most recent IFES survey, for example), voter apathy is not surprising. The imprisonment of opposition leaders and enactment of the language law, however, may have served as a stronger mobilization tool for western interests than for those in the east and south. I will explore variation in party performance by region in a later post (once all the results are in), especially Svoboda's performance outside of its core western regions.

In addition to looking at final turnout figures, it can be interesting to assess the change in turnout during the day. The next two maps show the difference between reported turnout at noon and 8pm, and at 4pm and 8pm in standard deviation terms. 

Difference in Turnout, Noon-8pm (Standard Deviation)

Difference in Turnout, 4pm to 8pm (Standard Deviation)
Patterns of turnout may vary across space based on the work and personal lifestyles of the population. For example, when I was living in L'viv during the 2007 parliamentary election, I noticed a surge of voting in the late morning and early afternoon. Since it was a Sunday, I asked why and was told that locals come to vote after church whereas voters might show up in larger numbers earlier in other regions. I never tested this proposition empirically, but it is plausible. Indeed, the results on the first map would be consistent with it. 

The second map shows an outlier - district 101. If one looks at the four hour increments (noon-4, 4-8), the pace of voting tends to taper off as the end of election day approaches. In Ukraine, it increased in three districts: 66, 101, and 153. In 66 and 153, in increased by about 2 percentage points. But, in district 101 the difference was an impressive 19.4 percentage points. 

Proportion of Voters Casting Ballots by Noon 

Proportion of Voters Casting Ballots by 4pm

The next two maps look at the data differently, taking the final turnout as the total. The first map shows the proportion of voters who cast ballots by noon, and the second shows the proportion by 4pm. Once again, voters in western Ukraine showed up later in the day relative to their counterparts elsewhere. A couple of districts in other parts of the country - again, notably 101 - are unusual in their turnout. In District 101, only 40% of those who are reported to have voted showed up at the polls by 4pm (the mean for all districts was 78%). This district in Kirovohrad has also only reported 29% of its protocols according to CEC records at the moment. It is particularly worthy of additional scrutiny.

In sum, turnout is low and shows regional variation. Some of this variation may be explained by variation in patterns of life, but other aspects of the variation require more investigation. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Notes from the Field

This year's election in Ukraine marked my tenth official election observation deployment and the day featured standard and new experiences. Per standard procedure, I was connected to a team including another observer, driver, and interpreter. Everyone on the team was professional and we approached all of our tasks with appreciation of the importance of yesterday's vote.

After a preliminary scan of polling places on Saturday, we planned for E-day. The general idea was to visit one polling station in Kyiv so that our driver could cast his ballot, then move into Brovary for the rest of the day. In total, we visited 14 different polling stations, spending around 30 minutes or so at each site.

Perhaps the most notable new feature in Ukraine's parliamentary elections was the introduction of webcam monitoring. We found two webcams in each polling station, one directed toward the registration desk and one directed toward the ballot boxes. Due to the configuration of some polling places, however, cameras were sometimes located in awkward positions. In the photo below, you see a camera directly placed over a voting booth, with a sign noting that video surveillance does not cover activities in the booths. While the camera was indeed pointing in another direction, voters might find this particular juxtaposition disconcerting.

Each polling station also had a laptop in a locked metal box where the feed was connected. We observed the functioning of the webcams in a few polling places and the laptops were recording images in real time. When our interpreter Katya spoke with a family member so that we could test the cameras, we found that the cameras in that site had a significant delay of several minutes before images found their way online.

Our poll opening was a bit hectic as the commission was stuffed to the gills with observers as you can see above. According to the director of this station, none of the commissioners had ever participated in an election on a polling station commission before. I have never encountered a completely green PEC and some of the early chaos may be explained by the lack of experience. The morning commenced with a flurry of activity at the last moment, but the station opened on time for voters to begin casting ballots.

A general rule in observing elections is that the team first introduces itself to the polling station officers and is registered by the Secretary. One team member begins gathering data from the officers while the other begins to mull around and look for areas where specific problems could emerge. I typically look for things like unusual patterns of signatures on voter lists (or problematic stamps), issues with ballot box seals, the accuracy and efficiency of the commission in issuing ballots, whether or not voters are having problems with ballots and how questions are addressed, and if anyone seems to be influencing voters in any way. Outside the polling station, I look for any signs of partisan activity (or other questionable activity) and if the basic materials required are in place (e.g., official signs with the party lists).

Observation involves quite a bit of standing around. To the extent possible, I try to engage with other observers to see what they have found on the ground. While the report that our team files focuses on what we see and hear directly, reports from other observers are often quite helpful. We spoke with local party observers, media representatives, international observers, and even one of the candidates throughout the course of the day.

In past elections, I have on occasion witnessed direct acts of fraud or intimidation, including efforts to stuff the ballot box with mobile votes from psychiatric patients (Ukraine 2002), biased commission decisions favoring one candidate over another (Ukraine 2004), likely voter "carousels" (Ukraine 2004 and Azerbaijan 2008), and egregious efforts to forge voter lists and intentionally delay the vote count (Ukraine 2010). I have also witnessed commissions working in good faith, but making errors that rendered the reconciliation of vote counting impossible (Russia 1999), or violating election provisions because of inexperience.

The major organizations monitoring the election are in the process of releasing final reports and they have more complete information than a single team that visited a dozen or so sites in a single region. While we encountered some suspicious activities, such as polling station officers unwilling to identify which party they officially represent at the polls, and accusations from other observers of tampering with the storage place for ballots (which we did not witness), most of the problems we encountered were procedural and likely due to training issues.

Above you can see an example of a minor infraction that was unaddressed. I watched a young girl waving a Socialist Party flag while accompanying her father to the polls. She waved around the lovely pink banner while her father got his ballot, completed it in the booth, and dropped it in the box. Was she attempting to agitate for the SPU? Unlikely, but a polling station commission member should have discreetly asked her father to store the flag while in the polling station. It is a little thing, but partisan agitation is illegal and the polling station members either didn't see it (hard to imagine) or thought it was "no big deal" because it was a small child. Fortunately, most of the issues we found were on this end of the scale of malice.

We attended the overnight vote count at a track and field training facility. Two commissions occupied the same space but they varied in how well they understood and applied the rules. Ukrainian law specifically spells out the steps to take in the vote counting process and if these steps are followed, most problems can be avoided. Unfortunately, our commission mixed up steps, did not check its math through the night, and tried to hurry up a bit on the process. The result? By our departure time around 6:00 am, the commission could not reconcile the numbers to complete the needed documents and had descended into bickering. We ended up leaving without the protocol - a document we always try to procure - because the commission simply was not able to address math issues that had been apparent to many all night long. Below are some final images featuring the steps of the vote counting process. I'll post more about the results and implications as the CEC finalizes its data.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Preparing for Observation

Short-term election observation requires a substantial amount of patience, fortitude, and understanding. Despite what officials in a certain US state claim, the purpose of observation is not to interfere with the electoral process. But, the impression that observers have sinister intent is not limited to fringe cases. In the ten missions in which I have participated (including the ongoing deployment in Ukraine), I have regularly been asked about the purpose of observation and challenged to defend my qualifications, or the authority of my organization or home country to engage in the process.

Observing elections is something like being an efficiency expert, or perhaps the observer in the film Kitchen Stories. You spend a significant amount of time watching people do their jobs, asking questions, and taking notes. Understandably, it can be quite disconcerting to be the one who is watched and about whom notes are taken. It is quite natural to be defensive or sensitive about being monitored and evaluated by people you do not know who gather information about you for a short period of time.

The ultimate goal is to better understand the quality of the process by watching its parts, gathering and aggregating data, and finally rendering a general assessment. Organizations vary in how they function on the ground and how they process data, but the broad contours of  the process are similar among monitoring groups with which I am familiar. To make a general assessment, groups - especially those with large numbers of observers - may attempt to randomly assign teams to polling stations. I suspect that these assignments are not fully randomized as elements of convenience (e.g., issues related to transportation) are factored in. However the assignment is arranged, observers are deployed, collect data, report the data, the data are processed, and a summary is presented to the public. Regardless of the assessment, the evaluation should help improve the electoral process next round.

My team is assigned to TEC 97 near Kyiv. According to data from Maidan Monitoring, TEC 97 is a district where many pre-election violations have been reported relative to other districts. The map below shows reported violations across the country, including only those reports where a constituency could be identified.* The SMD race is competitive and one where Batkyvshchyna and UDAR did not successfully coordinate. In sum, 24 candidates are contesting, but the Batkyvshchyna, UDAR, and Party of Regions candidates will probably be the most competitive.

As I have stated in other entries, I am not posting assessments of the election process until the balloting is over and organizations have evaluated data from across the country. What my team finds in Brovary tomorrow may - or may not - represent what is occurring across Ukraine and it would be inappropriate for us to comment publicly on the process before the "big picture" is clearer.
Map of Reported Violations, Using Maidan Monitoring Data as of 10/27/12.
Thanks to Serhij Vasylchenko for the map shapefiles.

*I will update the map with Maidan Monitoring data after election day (when more alleged violations are likely to be entered).

Election Eve

A few hours ago, official campaign activities ended for Ukraine's 2012 parliamentary elections. The Party of Regions held a rally not far from where I am staying in Kyiv, and the mood was celebratory. As Ukraine moves forward to election day on Sunday, a few aspects of the election should be given special attention.

  •  Does Batkyvshchyna receive more party list votes than UDAR? Most of the polling prior to the election suggested that Batkyvshchyna should edge out UDAR for second place on the party list tier. However, UDAR has been receiving significant attention since the polling moratorium on October 18 that may affect its ability to mobilize voters. Relative party list performance is primarily important for its symbolic value. It is the first set of results that will be reported via exit polling around 8:00 pm on Sunday night. In 2002, the opposition led by Our Ukraine was able to make a claim of victory given its strong PR showing. When all of the ballots were counted, and independents elected in SMD aligned themselves in party factions, regime supporters retained their dominant position. This year, however, the Party of Regions is likely to perform best in PR, but the final disposition of parliament will be determined in the districts.
  • Does Svoboda and/or Ukraine-Forward! pass the 5% threshold? Because votes will be wasted on parties that do not pass the threshold, the seat allocation in PR will be greater than the percentage of votes that the parties receive (That is, if the Party of Regions, for example, receives 30% of the vote, it will subsequently receive greater than 30% of the 225 seats allocated to PR because parties that do not pass 5% will not participate in seat allocation.). If these parties succeed on the party list, they may become significant players in making or breaking coalitions. The odds seem much better for Svoboda than Ukraine-Forward!, but either or both could pass the threshold.
  • Do coordination failures hurt the opposition? As I have noted before, the opposition has arguably performed better in terms of pre-electoral coordination than in past elections. Although Batkyvshchyna and UDAR accused each other of not living up to their agreements in good faith, especially regarding coordination in Kyiv, they cooperated in many districts. SMD races are much less predictable and are easier to manipulate, so coordination failures could prove costly.
  • How engaged are Ukrainian citizens in casting ballots? Turnout is an indicator of engagement, and it may be low. Turnout has been falling in parliamentary elections, with 75.81% in 1994, 69.64% in 1998, 65.22% in 2002, 58.97% in 2006, and 57.94% in 2007.* Parties have been attempting to mobilize, but public opinion data suggest that voters perceive limited efficacy in their participation.
  • How do observers assess the quality of election administration, especially in the SMD contests? The elections will be closely scrutinized, with thousands of international and domestic observers deployed all over the country and webcams in every polling station. If mischief occurs, it is more likely to be associated with SMD contests and is consequently more likely to be diverse in its forms. Pre-election reports have emphasized concerns about the potential for vote-buying, but the entire menu of manipulative activities is potentially available should unscrupulous actors be interested in committing fraud.
  • How do Ukrainian citizens respond to the outcomes? Inevitably, some participants will claim that fraud undermined the process. Indeed, a recent IFES survey noted that over half of Ukrainian respondents expect fraud to be a part of this year's contest. Large-scale mobilization does not appear to be in the works as it was when I was here for the elections in 2004. But, I expect to see victory rallies and protest rallies nearby on Monday.
I will be tweeting about the election via @erikherron. Because I am serving as an official observer, I will not comment on election quality during election day. I will make notes about what is taking place on the ground, and will post more details after the organization's press conference on Monday.

*Turnout figures are from Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission, except for data from 1994 which come from International IDEA. The IDEA data consistently report higher turnout than the CEC, but they also show a general decline in participation over time (with an uptick in 2002).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Observations about Ukraine's Upcoming Election, Part 3

In less than one week, Ukrainian citizens will cast their ballots in the third parliamentary election in six years. The moratorium on printing polling results began on October 18, and most of the polls that I read suggested that the likely party list outcome is: Party of Regions>Batkyvshchyna>UDAR> Communist Party>Svoboda>Ukraine-Forward!. The prohibition on polls does not prevent bookies from giving odds, with the Party of Regions identified today as the odds-on favorite to win the most seats. A couple of key party list questions remain:

1) Who will be the "last party in" above the 5% threshold? The polling suggests that Svoboda may make it and Ukraine-Forward! will not (despite the latter's protests). The United Opposition seems to be reasonably confident in Svoboda's chances as it made post-election coalition plans public.

2) How will SMD seats be distributed? If we look at the last election held under the mixed system, the party list and constituency seats varied substantially. The party-of-power in 2002, the For United Ukraine electoral bloc, overperformed in SMD relative to PR and some of this may have been due to fraud in the districts. [For example, I demonstrate with my colleague Paul Johnson in a book chapter about special polling stations in 2002 that the party-of-power disproportionately benefited from special voting, especially in prisons.]

The opposition has been more successful in pre-electoral coordination in the districts in 2012 than in earlier elections, with opposition parties reducing the number of districts in which they compete. This phenomenon is not new, I wrote about coordination in a Party Politics article in 2002, but it seems to be more deliberate and extensive in 2012. Coordination failures have prompted some sniping, with Batkyvshchyna and UDAR interpreting differently their agreement on coordination in Kyiv. [According to stories, the United Opposition wanted to divide districts based on polling of likely winners and allow competition where Batkyvshchyna-UDAR head-to-head competition would not yield a winner from outside of those two parties. UDAR's position is that the United Opposition failed to live up to the agreement.]

UDAR seems to be the emerging phenomenon in the final week of the election, with journalists and observers offering opinions about the likelihood that UDAR will "beat" Batkyvshchyna in the party list and finish second, questions about Klitschko's status as a "legitimate" member of the opposition, and interpretations of Klitschko as (perhaps) the next big thing in Ukrainian politics.

Unfortunately, data from Ukraine are not solid enough (or plentiful enough) to permit analysis like Nate Silver conducts in FiveThirtyEight for US elections, nor are the bookmakers' odds comparable to Intrade's election market. In addition, Ukraine has many undecided voters due to the party system's inchoate nature and consequently more limited party affiliations, making both mobilization and persuasion important factors as election day approaches. Layer on top of these factors the potential for falsification, and the opinions about UDAR's likely performance become little more than guesses. We know that in most polls, over most of the time period covered, Batkyvshchyna finished ahead of UDAR. With attention on Klitschko, but with no polling, it is hard to gauge if the parties' relative performance will change on election day. In many ways their relative placement on the party list doesn't matter - what will be critical is the total number of seats that the two parties hold when constituency races are considered and how these seats empower them to make or break coalitions.

Klitschko has been accused of not being a "true" member of the political opposition. However, in his position it probably pays to be coy. Neither the Party of Regions nor Batkyvshchyna is likely to have enough seats to gain a majority even with minor partners (say, if Svoboda passes the threshold and joins Batkyvshchyna or the Communists join the Party of Regions in coalition). UDAR could be positioned as "kingmaker" in this scenario and strategically withholding information is in UDAR's (and Klitschko's) interests at this point. Of course, it is also possible that independent candidates elected in the districts will hold the key to a majority, and they will extract a hefty price for their support.

A final note: is Klitschko the "next big thing?" Not that long ago, Serhiy Tihipko was the "next big thing" and while he is still a player, he was quickly co-opted. In UDAR's case, its post-election relevance - especially as a key player in coalition-making - will strongly influence Klitschko's staying power as a major factor in Ukrainian politics.

I am heading to Ukraine in a couple of days and will post and tweet (@erikherron) when possible. I will post after the election but it may take some time, depending on my Internet access and travel schedule.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Who Should Observe?

Georgia's recent election yielded many surprises, including the strong performance by Georgian Dream and the relatively quick and decisive announcement of failure by President Mikheil Saakashvili. A story that received scant attention was the decision by the Central Electoral Commission to deny registration to the US-based NGO, Committee for Open Democracy, that was conducting observation and analysis of election administration.*

According to the COD at its press conference, the primary reason for denial was the organization's resistance to disclosing its donor list. The Economist chided COD for not revealing its funding sources, suggesting that the case provides "insight into the potential pitfalls of private companies working within a sensitive sphere which has traditionally been the preserve of governmental and intergovernmental actors." COD is a non-profit, but it occupies a unique space between government-sponsored observation missions and large 501(c)(3) non-profits, like the Carter Center, that also engage in election observation. It seems that the unspoken question regarding registration related to the organization's objectivity and whether or not private donors would influence the content of the election analysis. Of course, this question could also be directed at all other brands of election observation groups.

The landscape of election observation has been changing, and organizations like COD are but one example of this change. No longer the sole purview of governments or international governmental organizations, the practice of observation is becoming more diverse. In addition to the privately-financed COD, crowdsourced observation projects, like Georgia's own Elections Portal, and Maidan Monitoring in Ukraine, offer another approach to observation and different source of data.

Does more observation lead to "better" observation? Assuming that a proper definition of "better" observation could be developed, this is an empirical question that the observation community could - and should - address. Indeed, if more organizations made their data publicly available, scholars and journalists could potentially assess "house effects" akin to those in public opinion polling and develop more precise measures of electoral integrity. While publishing data would require safeguards to protect individuals in the polling stations, the data could be made anonymous and could better inform all interested parties about how assessments of election-day activities are crafted.

*For full disclosure, I served on the COD's Ukraine local election mission in 2010 and anticipate participating in future deployments. The mission was managed professionally in 2010 and the report was careful to speak only to the observations on the ground.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Ideal Ukrainian Deputy

The Ukrainian media reported today (Liga, UP, ZN) on a Razumkov Center poll asking respondents about their preferred characteristics for members of parliament. I couldn't find the details of the poll on the Razumkov site, so I don't know about the sample or question wording. But, taking the reports at face value (sometimes a perilous assumption), the survey highlights an observation about Ukrainian politics that I have made in the past: divisions are not simply captured by "East vs. West." According to the news stories, what do respondents prefer?*

The "ideal deputy" would be male, Ukrainian-speaking, with an income similar to the population so that he can better understand citizens' needs. He should be party-affiliated, not independent, and part of the opposition. He should have business or legal experience, but not be involved with business. The deputy should advocate gradual rather than radical reforms, strong social welfare protections, stability even at the cost of civil liberties, closer relations with Russia rather than Europe, no change to natural gas prices even at the cost of energy dependence, and Ukrainian as the only state language.

If we looked at preferences by region, some of the expectations of the "East vs. West" divisions would likely emerge. That is, I would expect respondents in L'viv or Donetsk to paint a more consistent portrait of their preferred MP regarding national identity, language, and international orientation. But, the survey suggests that cleavages in society may not consistently divide citizens across starkly defined economic, cultural, linguistic, and partisan domains. Politicians who combine the "multi-vector" approach to foreign policy, a preference for a distinct Ukrainian national identity, and are perceived to be less corrupt and distant from citizens could find a successful niche in electoral politics.

*Presumably, the plurality responses on questions constitute "what Ukrainians want" in the context of the news stories, but the reports are not clear on this matter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Observations about Ukraine's Upcoming Election, Part 2

On Monday, I had an opportunity to speak with a member of Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission about several issues related to administration in the upcoming election. In the Skype chat, Commissioner Mykhailo Okhendovskyy answered all of my questions about the upcoming elections, providing detailed and nuanced answers.

Following is a summary of our session, not a transcript. The answers paraphrase the Commissioner's comments which are in blue. For the most part, I present the summarized remarks without comment, but on occasion I weigh in with purple text to provide my interpretation. A lack of commentary on my part should not be construed as consent with or dissent from the Commissioner's comments.

Q: Could you give me a general impression, from the CEC perspective, of the challenges of re-establishing the mixed electoral system after conducting the last two elections under nationwide Proportional Representation?

The main challenge was in the process of registering candidates for constituency races. In 1998 and 2002, territorial commissions managed the process, but the new version of the law required the CEC to conduct the process. The CEC had nineteen days to evaluate around 7,000 candidates.

Q: The CEC had to make decisions about district apportionment by oblast, and also district boundaries. Could you describe the process for creating the boundaries of SMD districts? Also, could you comment on the concerns about non-contiguous boundaries for some districts (especially noted in the joint report by the CVU and IFES)?

The current law does not require election districts to be contiguous. The baseline for district delimitation in the upcoming election was not the 2002 boundaries, but rather the territorial boundaries for the 2010 presidential election. Boundaries may vary from the baseline, but they are close. 

The first step of the process is to establish the number of registered voters; Ukraine has an excellent voter registry. The second step is to use the distribution of registered voters to establish districts; they can only vary by 12% from the average number of voters in the districts, which is around 161,000. The reapportionment process took away some districts from the east and reassigned them to areas where the population has grown. The final step is boundary delimitation for the districts, and the CEC had twenty days for this process. Some issues arose with out-of-country voting and a proposal to assign out-of-country voters to Kyiv (which would have given Kyiv 16 districts). In the end, Kyiv received 13 districts. The region with perhaps the greatest challenges due to non-contiguous districts is Luhansk. The process was completed on the 28th of April, and none of the parties were happy with the result, showing that it was objective. A challenge was leveled, but it was denied in the courts.

Q: Legislation was passed to install webcams in polling stations and to transmit live feeds of election day activities. A colleague at the CEC indicated that the law would be implemented, but he did think that webcams were useful. Please discuss your impressions of the advantages/disadvantages of webcam monitoring.

The decision to install webcams was a political one, and they will only be put in place at the 32,188 regular polling places. The remaining polling sites are "special" polling places like hospitals and prisons where webcams will not be installed. Two webcams will be placed in each station. One will focus on the table where voters receive their ballots and one will focus on the ballot boxes. They will begin transmitting at 6:45am when the polling station commissions begin their work, and they will transmit through the opening of the polls at 8:00 am until the close at 8:00 pm. The cameras will continue to record footage, but the vote count process will not be broadcast on the Internet. It will be available for courts, the CEC, and law enforcement and will be stored for one year. The Ministry of Infrastructure, not the CEC, will manage the installation of the cameras. The ruling gave the CEC only three months, so having another institution manage them was helpful. 

Despite his initial skepticism, the Commissioner noted that the installation of webcams could have two advantages. First, it could increase the credibility of the elections. The elections in Ukraine have been transparent, but the public does not trust the process and the results after the presidential elections in 2004. This lack of trust is due, in part, to campaign strategies in past elections that have encouraged mistrust of elections. Second, webcams could serve as a deterrent to improper behavior by officials and other stakeholders.

[EH: An underlying implication of this comment was that the perception of improper administration, advanced by some parties or partisan actors, was greater than the actual level of improper administration on the ground. The preponderance of evidence in 2004 suggests that this was not the case; substantial levels of fraud were in evidence. In later elections, such as the 2010 presidential election, partisans raised the specter of fraud but misdeeds were not widespread or decisive. Indeed, elections in 2006, 2007, and 2010 received high marks for the quality of administration.]

Q: A recent poll, reported by Zerkalo Nedeli late last week, suggests that 73% of Ukrainians do not believe that the election process will be free and fair. How is the CEC working to change expectations about the elections?  

The new electoral law is able to produce free and fair elections. The CEC is involved in civic education activities about electoral processes that may increase public confidence. But, public confidence has been eroded by strategies that blamed unfair election practices for losses at the polls. The atmosphere is important, and the atmosphere has been deteriorating. After this election, some parties may declare victory and use the lack of trust in elections as an explanation for why official results are different from what they claim they should have received. 

Q: Civil society has developed extensive reporting of alleged violations (e.g., Maidan Monitoring and the CVU). How do these activities by civil society help or hinder the CEC in its work? 
Many of the Ukrainian so-called non-governmental organizations are paid for - by candidates, parties, and foreign governments. No one trusts these organizations. They only report allegations, and just allegations that are useful for their candidates. The CEC, courts, and law enforcement only address official notifications of violations. These allegations are never submitted to the authorities; the organizations hold press conferences, but do not officially file the allegations for scrutiny. There is a problem with civil society development in Ukraine - it is paid for and not truly independent.

[EH: Non-Governmental Organizations in the post-Soviet region, and in many other parts of the world, face a significant challenge in the perception of their independence. A 2011 survey conducted in Ukraine by IFES found that 22% of Ukrainians believed that NGOs represent "foreign interests that do not reflect the will of Ukrainians" while 37% disagreed (41% did not know). Attitudes about NGOs varied regionally, however: 12% of respondents in the west strongly/somewhat believed that NGOs represent foreign interests, 32% of respondents in the east and 37% in the south held this view. While the survey does not suggest that a majority hold this view, the plurality of respondents did not know or did not respond. 

Associations with foreign governments, partisan politicians, or businesspeople, render NGOs vulnerable to charges of bias. In Russia, new legislation labels groups that receive non-Russian monies as "foreign agents," strongly suggesting that these groups are acting in the interests of external forces. While private or government funding does not necessarily affect the findings of NGO-sponsored activities, maximizing the openness and transparency of the process and better educating the public about NGO activities could allay concerns and inform the public.]

Q: The international press has followed the cases of Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, including the CEC decision to deny registration on the party list ballot. Could you talk about the process that the CEC undertook to make this decision?

[The Commissioner noted that the rules do not permit a CEC member to talk about specific activities of parties or candidates, and the Commissioner was careful to comply with the law during our conversation.] In general, the law - written by members of the opposition and supported by 366 members of parliament from all sides - indicates in Article 9 that convicted criminals cannot be nominated, registered, or elected. Some parties included convicted persons on their lists in breach of the law, and registration of such candidates was rejected on this basis. Article 76 of the Constitution of Ukraine and Article 9 of the law support this decision. A notable example is that for the first time in Ukrainian election history, some other prisoners also submitted applications to be registered in districts and these were rejected.

[EH: Article 9 states that citizens who have been convicted of committing a crime may not be nominated and elected unless the criminal record has been canceled or withdrawn. In Ukrainian: "4. Не може бути висунутий кандидатом й обраний депутатом громадянин, який має судимість за вчинення умисного злочину, якщо ця судимість не погашена і не знята у встановленому законом порядку." The text of the law is available at:]

Q: Earlier, the Constitutional Court issued rulings on dual candidacy that were controversial. Could you talk about your position or the CEC’s position on dual candidacy?

A temporary ad hoc commission created the law in parliament and this process was managed by deputies without engagement with the CEC or outside experts. There is a saying that election laws in the region are a soft pillow under the heads of the party of power and a stone under the heads of the opposition. In Ukraine it is the opposite. We may suppose that deputies were really tempted to include dual candidacy for their own personal purposes. Even though the courts had ruled on this provision in the past, they were tempted to see if there was enough time for the court to rule. The Constitutional Court used the same language as before to rule dual candidacy unconstitutional. Briefly some thought that the law would allow candidates to contest in more than one constituency, but this perception was wrong.

Q: Could you comment on the likelihood of Ukraine introducing new voting technology for ballots (like optical scan ballots)? Also, could you comment on the effect of revisions to the language law on election administration?

The CEC has studied e-voting, but provisions in Ukrainian law determine how elections will be conducted. They are very detailed and provide specific instructions. The CEC cannot do more in terms of voting technology than the law allows. Regarding the language law, the statute did not refer to active electoral legislation, so there are no implications for this year's elections. In the future, both of these issues may be addressed by the next CEC. 

I want to thank Commissioner Okhendovskyy for being generous with his time and also for his willingness to address all of my questions. Also, thanks to the European Center for a Modern Ukraine for arranging the chat.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Observations about Ukraine's Upcoming Elections, Part 1

With just over six weeks remaining until Ukraine's October 28 parliamentary elections, the key issues around which politicians and parties are mobilizing voters have become clearer, as has the playing field. I will be composing a formal Election Note for The Monkey Cage and Electoral Studies, but following are some observations about the key issues in this election cycle that I will fold into the final version.

1) Prosecution of leading opposition figures. Prominent politicians, most notably former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, remain imprisoned for alleged abuses of power while in office. The united opposition's attempt to nominate both individuals as top candidates on the party list was denied. The pro-government European Center for a Modern Ukraine issued an interpretation of the ruling, noting that Tymoshenko and Lutsenko could not be given ballot access because they could not serve in parliament. Despite their absence from the ballot, Tymoshenko, Lutsenko, and other imprisoned opposition figures remain important players in the campaign, with Tymoshenko's status regularly featured in the press.

2) Party mergers. Some parties have undergone rebranding due to new election rules and changes in political conditions, and several parties have merged for the election. The pro-regime Party of Regions incorporated the Strong Ukraine party, led by former presidential contender and member of government Serhiy Tihipko. The Bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko, which emerged from the 2007 election as the leading opposition party challenging the party-of-power, reclaimed its party name: Batkyvshchyna (Fatherland) and merged with the Front of Change (led by former Rada speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk). The party has composed a joint list and has coordinated constituency nominations in the districts. The united opposition also incorporated small parties into its campaign, including Reforms and Order, People’s Self-Defense, For Ukraine, and People’s Movement. Other prominent organizations, such as boxer Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR and Oleh Tyahnibok’s right-wing Svoboda Party are contesting separately on party lists, but Svoboda agreed to coordinate SMD nominations with the united opposition. Twenty-two parties are contesting the party list ballot, with the Party of Regions, Batkyvshchyna, UDAR, and Communist Party as the leading contenders to pass the 5% threshold according to late August polls. The failure of the opposition to fully consolidate could be problematic, especially if coordination failures undermine constituency candidates.

3) Language Law. Amid controversy about procedural compliance with legislative rules, the Rada passed a new language law allowing local governments to elevate the status of the Russian language. Predictably, some local governments have moved forward (e.g., Donetsk, Luhansk), and others have resisted (e.g., L'viv). Language has been a hot-button topic, closely associated with general issues of identity that include the interpretation of Ukraine's history and perceptions about how Ukraine should interact with Western institutions like the EU and NATO. Presumably, Party of Regions strategists expected this law to mobilize voters in the party's traditional areas of strength. However, this approach could backfire as the language law could also serve as a mobilization tool for proponents of traditional Ukrainian identity who are threatened by the potential for this rule to undermine the status of Ukrainian.

4) Pressure on independent media. Opponents have accused President Yanukovych's administration of targeting critics and the tax evasion case of TVi, an independent television channel, is noted as an example. TVi failed to successfully defend itself in a court case, although it claimed to have made a legal deal with tax authorities to address arrears. During the 2004 Orange Revolution, independent media - especially Channel 5 - played a key role in providing the public with a view that differed from the regime's position. Channel 5 and TVi experienced pressure from the authorities soon after President Yanukovych took office in 2010. The most recent case against TVi is perceived as an effort to quell anti-regime publicity in an environment where most national channels broadcast favorable coverage.

5) Election Administration. The re-adoption of a mixed electoral system largely consistent with the rules used in 1998 and 2002 was initially supported by deputies across Ukraine's political divides. However, subsequent court rulings and administrative decisions have provoked "buyer's remorse" among many opposition members. The elimination of dual candidacy - consistent with an earlier court ruling removing them from the 2002 elections - along with rulings about out-of country voting, the delineation of constituencies, and most recently the method of selecting local commission members, has heightened concerns about the potential impact of administrative decisions on the conduct of the vote and potentially its outcome. Like its neighbor Russia, Ukraine is also installing webcams to broadcast polling station procedures during election day. The images will be scrutinized by the media and observers, but footage of the vote count will not be streamed live.

6) Manipulation and Fraud. Ukrainian citizens are skeptical of the upcoming elections, if results from an August poll by DW-Trend adequately represent public views. In the poll, 73% of respondents expressed skepticism that elections would be free and fair. Citizen organizations are actively monitoring the campaign and reporting alleged violations from vote buying and use of administrative resources to violence. Maidan Monitoring has an especially detailed site, including ongoing reports from the field. The long-standing Committee of Voters has also been active in monitoring and commenting on the election campaign. Accusations of fraud will increase in intensity and scope as the election approaches. In addition to alleged vote theft, regime opponents have identified pressure on the media (see above) and disproportionate coverage of the Party of Regions as additional evidence of regime efforts to undermine a level playing field.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Comment on Ukrainian Candidates' Regional Ties

Candidate information is beginning to appear on Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission site. The re-introduction of the mixed system is likely to enhance the importance of candidate connections to regional constituencies as competitors seek ways to increase electability. Although the previous two elections used rules that de-emphasized local connections, parties appeared to be mindful of the importance of nominating candidates with regional ties on their national lists. The local capacity that parties and politicians have developed over the last few cycles should be especially useful in the upcoming election.

I generated the following maps using data collected from the Central Electoral Commission (in a collaboration with Nazar Boyko). The first map displays reported candidate residency from the 2007 snap elections for 1,899 candidates with clearly defined location data (apologies for the pie charts, but the BatchGeo platform uses them as a standard tool to display data. As a side note, pie charts have their detractors and proponents...).

View Ukraine Residency 2007 by Party in a full screen map

While more than a third of candidates declared Kyiv or its environs to be their place of residence, the remaining candidates were distributed in all corners of Ukraine. Regional divisions are unsurprisingly evident, with the Party of Regions and Communists offering a higher proportion of candidates claiming eastern residency than other parties, and Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense and the Bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko offering a higher proportion of candidates claiming western residency. These data suggest that the major parties have developed local capacity across the country that could be valuable under the mixed system.

The picture from 2007 is a bit different when we look at winners: Kyiv residency is dominant, accounting for more than half of all elected deputies. The Party of Regions is better represented through the reported residency of its elected deputies in some eastern areas (e.g., Donetsk) and the opposition is better represented in western areas (e.g., BYuT in Galicia). But, parties can also claim elected deputies who report residency in "enemy" territory.

View Ukraine 2007 Residency by Party (Winners) in a full screen map

Of course, the party system has changed in important ways since 2007, especially for the opposition, with the decline of OU-PSD, the collaboration of BYuT and Yatseniuk's Front of Change, and the independent participation of UDAR. It is also important to note that residency and localness may not have been decisive the last time the mixed system was used. In 2002, two-thirds of candidates in single-member districts (2,133 of 3,086) claimed residency in or around the districts they contested. However, 126 of the 223 district deputies initially elected did not claim local ties, compared to 97 who did. I plan to do some additional analysis, taking into account various factors such as the choice set in the districts, the qualities of candidates, and so on. But, as we look toward the 2012 parliamentary election, it will be instructive to see how party nominations reflect regional connections.

Note: The maps have some missing values, generally due to coding (either information availability or geocoding problems). In some cases, the geocoder could not identify villages. I will explore these issues as they may be a function of transliteration choices.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Campaign is Underway

On July 30, 2012, Ukraine's election campaign officially kicked off, with many parties announcing their party lists and constituency nominations over the last couple of days. Once again, Ukraine will use a mixed electoral system after discarding the national-level proportional representation system used in the 2006 and 2007 elections. The details of the mixed system in the initial legislation indicated that it would function similarly to Ukraine's mixed system in 1998, but the election law was modified after adoption especially due to the judiciary's reaffirmation that dual candidacy violates the constitution. It now seems that the rules will be closer in form to the 2002 version of the mixed system.

Since President Yanukovych's victory in January 2010's presidential election, domestic and international observers of Ukraine's politics have criticized the deterioration in the quality of democracy. Following the 2010 local elections held in the fall, I collaborated with Nazar Boyko on a paper that is forthcoming in the Journal of East European and Asian Studies (pdf). We initially wrote the paper for a roundtable held at George Washington University in early 2011 to assess President Yanukovych's first year in office. As is often the case with academic publishing, it has taken time to get the paper to press.

In the article, we first evaluate the election results, noting that they underscore the consolidation of Party of Regions control in the east and south, and its expansion in the central regions. Results in the west are more varied, with some parties aligned with the regime winning local races (e.g., in Zakarpatska) and minor parties gaining footholds in other areas (e.g., Svoboda in L'viv). We discuss some of the possible reasons for these developments, and present implications for the parliamentary elections. Notably, we suggest that Svoboda's successes are likely to be short-term and induced by peculiarities of the election campaign in specific regions, and that the opposition was once again hampered by its inability to coalesce. Public opinion polls suggest that the former observation is on target and the behavior of the opposition suggests that it may have partially addressed the latter. We also outline variation in election administration, with some regions manifesting degradation in the quality of elections and others by-and-large showing no evidence of widespread, systematic, or decisive fraud. The parliamentary elections will be an important test of the Party of Region's cohesion (with the re-introduction of constituency races potentially undermining party centralization), the ability of the opposition to overcome collective action problems and coordinate campaigns on party lists and in the districts, and the commitment of the regime to hold free and fair elections.

Fall 2012 promises to be an interesting time for elections across the region, with parliamentary votes scheduled in Belarus (September 23), Georgia (October 1), Lithuania (October 14), and Ukraine (October 28). I will be writing more about Ukraine's election in the coming weeks, including a an election note for the journal Electoral Studies that will be cross-posted on the Monkey Cage, and will comment a bit on the other elections as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Crowdsourcing Election Data

During this cycle of elections in the post-Soviet world, mobile technology has played an important role in providing information about on-the-ground activities in real time. Crowd-sourcing produces noise - notably in the potential for trolls to insert false reports and selection effects in reporting (with large urban centers more likely to have submissions) - but also provides valuable information about how elections are administered. Citizen-led monitoring efforts did not originate in the region, but they reached a large scale in Russia's recent elections ( Two upcoming elections in the fall, in Georgia and Ukraine, will also feature online, real-time monitoring with data already appearing online. Maidan ( with reports here: and Elections Portal ( are tracking reports of alleged violations. Other projects are planned, and I will post links when they are online.

These efforts, coupled with state-sanctioned webcams in polling stations, will provide the public, media, and scholars access to new kinds of data that could produce valuable insights about how elections are conducted and perceived.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Re-Introducing Uncertainty in Russian Elections

My earliest memory of politics is from 1976, when my father stayed up late into the night to find out if Jimmy Carter would defeat Gerald Ford. The energy and excitement that I experienced from watching election results unfold sparked my own scholarly interest in psephology.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to have enjoyed many energizing conversations with Russian colleagues about elections. One of my constant refrains has been that on election eve in democratic societies, citizens do not typically know who will win. This experience is in stark contrast to most elections in Russia in which the outcome is often predetermined.*

For the first time in many years, Russian elections are electric, but not due to the likely outcome. Last week, the Levada Center released its final pre-election polling results, and as many media outlets reported, Vladimir Putin is expected to enjoy a first-round victory. The poll revealed that among likely voters, Putin would receive around 66% of the vote "if the election were held this Sunday." Since the December parliamentary election, Putin's poll numbers have been roughly at this level even in the face of public protests challenging his legitimacy. Among the alternatives, Gennadiy Zyuganov polled at 15%, Vladimir Zhirinovskiy at 8%, Mikhail Prokhorov at 6%, Sergey Mironov at 5%, and 1% of respondents indicated that they would spoil their ballots.

The poll provides a valuable baseline for interpretation of the actual results that will come in over the weekend. As I indicated in a recent article in Comparative Political Studies (gated), election returns in electoral authoritarian societies can provide insight into anti-regime sentiments even when results are manufactured. With the intense scrutiny that polling station officials will face, it will be more challenging to commit fraud at the polls and manufacture outcomes.** But, by undermining and co-opting opposition over the years, and carefully managing the choice set by excluding candidates like Grigoriy Yavlinskiy, election-day manipulation becomes less necessary to generate a Putin victory. The weekend is likely to produce some surprises in the process, and it will be worth paying attention to several matters as voting and vote-tabulation progress.
  • Role of technology in the election observation process. The state and citizens plan to use communication technologies to gather and disseminate information about the quality of administrative practices. Hackers have already probed the web cameras placed by officials in polling stations. One would also imagine that the network of citizen-observers planning to post observations via mobile phones will have honest participants along with trolls. The signal-to-noise ratio emerging from these processes will have important implications for how the election is perceived domestically and internationally.
  • Divergence from polling. How PM Putin fares in the vote, relative to expectations, is important. But, it will also be interesting to note if opposition supporters converge on an anti-regime alternative. To be sure, some candidates like Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky have core supporters who are not casting a strategic protest vote but instead are voting sincerely. However, Prokhorov,*** in particular, may be able to pull in better numbers than the Levada Center poll reported if strategic voters gravitate toward him as the best proxy for an anti-Putin vote.
  • President Putin's post-election message. Because his victory address will likely coincide with public protest, the rhetorical response, along with the reaction of law enforcement, will be an critical signal for how dissent will be managed in the short-term. Recent veiled threats in public addresses, including suggestions that the opposition is controlled from abroad and may commit heinous acts, are not promising signs from PM Putin, however.
Putin has been a savvy politician in the past, but has miscalculated in the last few months as he failed to recognize that he faces a different public than the one that first elected him in 2000. His vitality, strength, decisiveness, and work-ethic served as a welcome change from Boris Yeltsin, but the criteria for judging his presidency have changed. In the near term after the election, Putin and his allies must develop a strategy to rebuild his legitimacy amidst a more active and skeptical public that is unlikely to be quieted by bread and circuses or silent in the face of repression.

Under Putin's leadership, the 2000s served as a counterweight to the excesses of the 1990s. The uncertainty in Russian politics today does not rest in the election results, but in how the 2010s will serve as a counterweight to, or extension of, the excesses of the 2000s.

*In some years, or in some regions, election results may be all but certain in democratic societies. However, even in my reliably Republican state of Kansas, races can be close and outcomes unclear until all the ballots are counted.
**As my colleague Valentin Mikhailov suggested years ago, we should be cautious about thinking of fraud as a dichotomous outcome (i.e., elections as "dirty" or "clean"). In large elections, fraud occurs. The main questions are: how much occurs, what techniques are used, and how widespread are the effects?
***Prokhorov's skeptics suspect him of being a Kremlin-manufactured technical opposition candidate. Regardless of the origins of his campaign, he may be perceived as the best alternative for opposition voters.