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).

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