Friday, October 9, 2015

Wartime Elections

In a forthcoming Electoral Studies article, Michael Thunberg, Nazar Boyko, and I assess the effects of conflict on the 2014 snap presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine. Our findings have relevance for the upcoming local elections to be held at the end of October as well as elections outside of Ukraine.

Civil and international crises impede state capacity and inhibit the conduct of free and fair elections. Yet, democratic (and semi-democratic) countries have held elections during wars and insurrections. The United States conducted elections during its Civil War on the territories the Union controlled, and many contemporary examples exist across the globe. Election administrators face the challenges of maximizing enfranchisement, security, and integrity when state sovereignty and the safety of participants are under threat. Our article analyzes how Ukraine adapted its election administration to manage the process in wartime conditions. We found that:
  • Precinct Electoral Commissions (PECs) located closer to the conflict zone were more likely to be relocated and report lower levels of citizen participation. The map below shows the location of PECs that were closed on election day: dark blue dots are PECs that were never established and red dots are PECs that were established but did not report election day results. 
  • While conflict effects were measurable in Donetsk and Luhansk, they did not extend outside Donbas,* suggesting that Ukrainian state authorities successfully contained conflict. PECs situated closer to active combat experienced substantially lower participation than those located closer to the borders of contiguous regions (Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhia). The effects of distance from the conflict zone on voter behavior disappeared outside of Donbas.
  • Partisan effects of wartime management especially impacted voters who had supported Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions in past contests. It is unclear how much of the diminished participation in open PECs in Donbas was due to concerns about safety or the absence of parties/candidates that citizens supported.

Closed PECs in the 2014 Snap Parliamentary Election. Figure by Roman Sverdan, CIFRA Group
The upcoming local elections face similar difficulties. Although the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic have postponed their local elections, enfranchising voters and administering elections in Donbas is fraught with problems. Elections will not be administered on territories that Ukrainian security services do not control. Just as in October 2014, large numbers of voters located in Donbas will be unable to cast their ballots in October 2015.**

Outside of Donbas, the decentralization of administration for local elections creates additional impediments. The Central Electoral Commission is not collecting and disseminating data as it would in national elections; these responsibilities have been delegated to Territorial Electoral Commissions at the local level. Variation in local conditions and the quality of TEC personnel may generate different experiences for voters, candidates, and parties.

* The exception to this observation is Crimea, where elections could not be held.
** Enfranchising Internally Displaced Persons is an additional challenge. We did not analyze effects on these voters in the article as data are unavailable.
Replication Data for the Electoral Studies article.
Data and Stata .do files for the tables are available for download.