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Election watchers worried by lack of independent exit poll; survey essential to deterring vote fraud

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Dec. 11, 2009, 1:57 a.m. | Politics — by Mark Rachkevych

Voters are questioned on the way out of a polling station in Kyiv during a parliamentary election that took place on Sept. 30, 2007. (exitpoll.org.ua)

Mark Rachkevych

Mark has been a reporter for the Kyiv Post since 2006, but joined full-time in 2009. A native Chicagoan where he was the co-founder of the now defunct Glasshouse Magazine, Mark currently is an editor of business news and still contributes stories on an ongoing basis. He is a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, a graduate of St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, and fluent in the Ukrainian and Russian languages.

As if it wasn’t enough to have an inconsistent election law, huge budget shortfalls and a voter list riddled with inaccuracies, the country now faces the prospect of having no independent exit poll, a tool successfully used in the past to curb fraud. Yet there seems to be no shortage of locally funded polls financed by political forces and TV stations, owned by politically connected businessmen. In the meantime, a nationwide non-profit organization will use a statistical quick vote count for the first time in Ukraine.

The independent poll, traditionally financed by foreign embassies and international donors since 1998, has been used to create public expectations that make fraud more difficult to accept.

A change in funding priorities has been cited as the main reason that some traditional sponsors are not supporting the exit poll that had previously been organized by Democratic Initiatives, a mostly Western-financed policy center.

“We learned that some embassies have already allocated money for the fiscal year while others said the exit poll is beyond the scope of their funding priorities,” said Ilko Kucheriv, director of the pro-democracy think tank in Kyiv. He said he has yet to raise a third of $130,000 needed to conduct fieldwork for exit polls in both election rounds.

The exit poll proved especially effective in the second round of the 2004 presidential election when it showed that today’s president, Victor Yushchenko, had beaten Victor Yanukovych, 53 to 44 percent. The fraudulent official result showed that Yanukovych had won narrowly: 49.5 to 46.6 percent.

The exit poll findings were also used as evidence during the ensuing Supreme Court hearings, which concluded there was widespread fraud and ruled that a repeat vote should take place. Yushchenko won that vote on Dec. 26, 2004, and became president the next month.

A recent poll found that 82 percent of Ukrainians expect vote rigging, according to Oleksiy Anypovych of the Lviv-based Rating Group polling firm. These fears are shared by election observers, both international and domestic.

“As a public oversight instrument, the exit poll is very effective in Ukraine if it is conducted and carried out by qualified professionals,” said Oleskandr Vyshniak, director of the Ukrainian Sociology Service.

Democratic Initiatives’ Kucheriv said he has already had to make concessions that could compromise the quality of the poll. In past nationwide elections, 300 polling stations were surveyed out of the existing 33,000, allowing for better accuracy and a lower sample error. This year, the exit poll team is settling for a lower sample size of 240 polling stations, which will yield a higher error rate. But that number is considered to be the minimum needed to keep the poll representative and accurate.

“Some donors have pledged money for other activities like carrying out an information campaign but this will be useless if the actual field work isn’t done,” Kucheriv said.

Traditional supporters like the Canadian International Development Agency, Swedish International Development Agency, Swiss Cooperation Office and Royal Norwegian Embassy have declined to provide funding due to shrinking budgets, shifting funding priorities or fiscal timing purposes.

Although “Canada"

Two reputable policy centers, Razumkov Center and Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, have traditionally carried out the field work for Democratic Initiatives. But it seems that KIIS and other large market organizations that could potentially be contracted are being engaged by the candidates.

“We’re keeping our options open and are in negotiations with other potential clients for the first round, which isn’t as important as the second round,” said Volodymyr Paniotto, director of KIIS.

Market research firms GfK and Research and Branding said negotiations are under way with potential clients to conduct an exit poll. GfK are holding talks with a TV station while Research and Branding confirmed they have a private client they would not name. Experts said they work with Yanukovych’s headquarters.

Oleskandr Bukhalov of FOM polling firm, a Ukrainian offshoot of its Russian counterpart, said it is also holding talks with potential clients and said “chances are high that we’ll conduct an exit poll.”

Ukraine Sociology Service’s Vyshniak said that KIIS is in talks with Sergiy Tigipko and that SOCIS, another polling group that discredited itself during the 2004 presidential election, was in negotiations with Yulia Tymoshenko’s representatives to conduct exit polls.

Spokespersons for the Party of Regions and Tigipko wouldn’t confirm or deny they are planning on funding an exit poll. A spokesperson of the Kyiv branch of Batkivshchyna party, headed by presidential frontrunner Tymoshenko, did not respond to a Kyiv Post request before deadline.



In the meantime, another non-profit organization is planning on using a different monitoring device. A network of election monitors from Opora, a nationwide civic activist group, will carry out a quick vote at 1,000 polling stations, the first of its kind in Ukraine. Drawing on international practice, Opora plans to observe the vote count and then text message results to a database and publicize results through the media. Kyiv Post staff writer Mark Rachkevych can be reached at rachkevych@kyivpost.com
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Anonymous Dec. 11, 2009, 8:07 a.m.    

It could be also because Ukraine has sufficient resources to monitor the election results itself and the other fact is that the election results are not expected to be even close with a 5-10 percent difference in outcome. Previous elections results were within 0 to 3% difference.

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Anonymous Dec. 11, 2009, 10:29 a.m.    

That doesn't excuse there from being a need to have a third-party independent body, which would less likely to tamper with the results. Would you really trust the organisation who would be doing the "monitoring of the election results itself".

After all, even the vote counts themselves (forgetting even monitoring) were allegedly altered in the 2004 election.

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Anonymous Dec. 13, 2009, 2:19 p.m.    

I think you should go back and examine the facts before your rely on hear say and media statements. Exactly where was the fraud and what was the extent of the fraud committed back in 2004. Polling places and numbers please? The two parties that are contesting the second round will be scrutinizing the election results, that you can be assured of. Most of the errors identified in 2004 were of an administrative error and not due to out right fraud. Those polling places were there was some concern about irregularities did not play a significant role in the overall outcome of the 2nd round election results. All indications are that the results of the second round was close. There is no disputation in t6he outcome of the third round. Any recount rerun of an election produced a 4 to 6% swing to the opposition. In 2005 Yushchenko won the third round vote by 52%. It was obvious that Yushchenko would win the recount even before one vote was cast.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2009, 1:22 a.m.    

Ist worth stating some missing facts from the article.

Exist polls are notoriously wrong. They are random samples that have an inbuilt biais in them. The fact that they are not secret is a bug concern. There is little information that can be drawn from them and they most certainly can not be used as evidence in any challenge to the results in a close election. At best they are indicative.

The real scrutiny of the ballot takes place at the polling place. There the candidates most concerned have the right to appoint scrutineers who monitor the process of the count. They record the tabulated results and report them to a central office who consolidates the information provided and makes sure that the data tallies with the official results so as to ensure that they have been transcribed correctly. Scrutineers also sign off on the official polling place results report.

In the past Ukraine did not have a proper register of voters. The systems have been significantly improved and the process streamlined. Much of the system was in fact designed with the assistance of the OCSE.

Former Presidential Secretary, Viktor Baloha, recently correctly stated

"Various statements by marginal presidential candidates about the likely electoral fraud are aimed to create a background for their post-election information campaigns and lawsuits, the leader of the Yedyny Tsentr Viktor Baloha said Nov. 24. (Source Western media)

"Alarming declarations about the likely vote rigging directly point to organizational weaknesses of some candidates as the law allows for reliable barriers against any electoral fraud. For instance, any presidential candidate can send his 2 representatives to sit on local and regional electoral commissions, appoint observers to keep an eye on voting and counting of ballots. Proxies of candidates who have wide authority can also supervise the course of the voting."

"Other effective barriers to electoral fraud are the Central Election Commission [whose members are appointed by major parliamentary parties on a quota principle] and numerous international observers. Mass media and NGOs, notably, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, will also be effective in helping to curb fraud."

“There are more than enough supervisory tools and they will all be used during the campaign. All the more so that there are 18 presidential candidates, some having considerable weight. That is why any declarations about the likely fraud are just attempts to justify a defeat of those who make them.

Note that those candidates who are selling themselves as strong-willed and tough are most given to such declarations. In fact, such declarations expose them as would-be losers and outsiders,” Baloha added.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2009, 1:56 a.m.    

Looking back at the 2004 exit polls they show the extent of error that exists. The exit poll reported 53% to 44%. (3% missing being a non vote). Statistically in any rerun election there is a 4% to 6% swing to the opposition. Given the extent of advertising and media focus on the election result a swing to Yushchenko in the rerun was expected. The result of the final round placed Yushchenko on 52% indicating that his support base in the second round was 46% to 48%.

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