Local Election Engagement in Ukraine
On October 25, 2015, an estimated 13.8 million Ukrainians went to the polls to elect over 170,000 local representatives (including Mayors, Regional Councils, and City/Village Councils). This marked the first local election in five years, and with it, an opportunity to select new leaders that more closely align with Ukraine’s shifting political landscape following the 2014 Maidan revolution and snap presidential and parliamentary elections. Recognizing the importance of the election, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) worked with the Central Election Commission of Ukraine (CEC) to support its efforts to effectively administer transparent and credible elections and conduct extensive voter education.
Preliminary assessments, including by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights election observation mission, characterized Ukraine’s local elections as generally peaceful and well-managed. This was commendable, given the substantial challenges associated with the local elections. One such challenge was the high turnover rate among members of Territorial Election Commissions (TECs) and Precinct Election Commissions (PECs), which are made up of political party representatives. This frequent pattern of appointment and re-appointment is a recurring problem in Ukrainian elections and can result in a cadre of election officials that are not consistently trained and therefore ill-equipped to effectively manage the polls and tabulation process. The local elections in particular exacerbate the politicized nature of commissions, due to the fact that these elections are administered by highly autonomous TECs, rather than directly by the CEC. In a handful of cases, rebellious TECs refused to register qualified candidates or print and deliver ballot papers, even defying orders by the CEC and court. This resulted in elections being postponed in the strategic cities of Mariupol, Krasnoarmiysk and Svatove. Mayoral and City Council elections in Mariupol and Krasnoarmiysk are now scheduled for November 29, and the CEC has said it is prepared to print and deliver the ballots itself to ensure a well-managed and impartial process, if the TECs will not comply.
Besides the makeup of commissions, a second key issue during the elections was widespread confusion among voters about the electoral system itself, as a result of Ukraine’s recent adoption of a new Law on Local Elections and subsequent application of a very rare, complicated and little understood three-part mixed electoral system. The unusual proportional electoral system adopted for Oblast, Rayon and City Councils has yielded many illogical results, as predicted by many, including IFES. It seems likely that the country’s ongoing experimentation with different electoral systems will continue in the next electoral cycle.
In the lead up to the election, IFES – with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Canadian Department for Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD) – worked with the CEC to mitigate the above mentioned challenges and systemic issues. IFES focused on conducting voter education outreach on new electoral provisions and working with the CEC to train PEC and TEC members, as well as training police assigned to polling stations.
Working with trainers from eight civil society organizations (CSOs), IFES and the CEC implemented 1,133 trainings on election-related procedures for TEC Commissioners nationwide. Through these trainings, TEC members received information on the rights and duties of election Commissioners; printing and delivery of ballot papers; registration of official observers; and resolving complaints, among other key topics. IFES also produced 49,000 manuals for PEC members that were distributed nationwide as reference guides. The trainings were complemented by production and distribution of 60,000 copies of a 50-minute training video that outlines key electoral procedures, helping to ensure that new commission members could easily access training resources. An informal Election Day monitoring mission by IFES staff found that all PECs had access to the PEC manual and rated it as highly or somewhat useful.
A second round of elections for Mayor was held in 30 large cities on November 15. During the week before the second round, IFES organized 79 trainings for 4,000 newly formed PECs and re-printed a Brief Guide for PEC members to aid them on Election Day.
Recognizing security concerns around the local elections, IFES worked with the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) to train 45 trainers, who went on to train approximately 10,000 police officers (primarily militsiya, as well as newly formed politsiya) on their role in elections and key election-related procedures. IFES and CVU also produced and distributed 34,600 copies of a pocket-sized police handbook that explains the rights, responsibilities and role of police on Election Day, widely available at all polling stations visited by IFES during the election.
In July 2015, the Parliament adopted a new Law on Local Elections that resulted in significant and little-understood changes in Ukraine’s electoral system. To help mitigate voter confusion, IFES worked with the CEC to develop and broadcast two public service announcements (PSAs) that addressed: 1) the new electoral system and how to vote, and 2) women’s representation and the new party list gender quotas. These PSAs were widely broadcast on national television and social media in the two weeks prior to the elections. The PSA explaining how votes turn into seats under the new electoral system received over 88,000 views on YouTube.
Other voter education efforts included voter outreach through libraries by educating nearly 50 librarians on key election procedures – equipping them with the knowledge and information needed to answer election-related questions from voters visiting local libraries – and producing and distributing 100,000 informational pamphlets and 11,000 posters on voter rights and the new electoral system to libraries nationwide.
After the election, Ukraine’s newly elected leaders should begin the task of addressing the priorities of Ukrainian citizens, including campaign finance reform, economic development and persistently high levels of corruption. IFES remains committed to continuing support reform of the electoral process and to promote regular and transparent elections as a critical opportunity for the public to hold elected leaders accountable to addressing citizens’ concerns.