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Ukraine’s stone-age elections: fraudsters welcome

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Nov. 1, 2012, 3:32 p.m. | Op-ed — by Svitlana Tuchynska

A member of the district election commission number 223 in Kyiv is counting votes on a calculator on Oct. 31. (Svitlana Tuchynska)
© Svitlana Tuchynska

Svitlana Tuchynska

While in developed countries, people vote via electronic voting machines, personal computers, mobile phones or even by post office, in Ukraine everything is still done by hand, opening lots of opportunities for fraud.     

In some countries, like Switzerland, the system is paper-based but the ballots are scanned and the machines count the results. In Ukraine, even this would be a major breakthrough.

Instead, this is how the system works in Ukraine. After voting stopped at 8 p.m. on Oct. 28, the count, done manually, begins. “Forty-eight protocols have to be written by hand. In each one we have to write down all the names of 22 parties and dozens of candidates, their results, tons of other information. If you make a mistake in one, you can throw away all the others. My deputy was writing from 7 p.m. until the early morning and crying,” says the head of a polling station in district 223 in Kyiv, who refused to give his name.

By the morning of Oct. 29, the work in the polling station is done and the ballots and protocols have to be taken to the district election commission. There, the waiting in line can take days.

In many instances, commission workers and observers have been working for 48 hours straight, like in districts 215, 223, 216 and many others. Exhausted, the workers stand or sit in little corridors, with their boxes or sacks with ballots. A strong smell of sedative medicine is in the air as some fell ill from physical and mental exhaustion. A dozen people across the country have been taken away by ambulances with heart attacks.

The district commission has to check all the papers from each polling station and accept boxes with the ballots. Then they have to transfer data to the Central Election Commission server. Later, they have to bring all the original protocols to the CEC.

Because the calculation system is so complicated, it requires a lot of practice and qualifications, both in short supply among many polling station workers. For instance, in Kyiv’s district 217, where members of polling stations were waiting in lines from early morning until late night on Oct. 29, almost each protocol submitted by the polling stations had mistakes. Some lacked a stamp, other lacked signatures, other included corrections but lacked a correction protocol.

“How come you did not count one vote? You have the amount of people who voted but the amount of those who supported each party or candidate is less by one! Where am I to add this vote to now?” screamed deputy head of the district election commission Tetyana Vysochanska to one head of the polling station commission.  

Three days after the polling stations shut down, at 10 p.m. on Oct. 31, member of the district commission 223 in Kyiv sits with a large Soviet type calculator and checks if the numbers add up in one of the protocols. They don’t. And so she sends the exhausted head of the polling station for recount of all ballots, which, together with producing recount protocols, takes approximately three hours.

As people get tired, it becomes easier to play with numbers.

Some heads of polling stations decided to be smarter and come in later. So they took their ballot boxes back to the polling stations. “According to the law, at least one member of the polling station’s commission has to be with ballots at all times, but we all have jobs, families. How can we guard them for three days? So, there was just one policeman there. Anything could have happen to the boxes,” confesses one of the heads of a polling station in district 223, who spoke to Kyiv Post on condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions.     

The pay that these people receive for this work is around Hr 1,130 ($141). According to the Central Elections Commission, a half-million people are working in commissions.

When the system is so complicated, everything depends on people and paper which can be bought and forged, respectively.

Why not offer software for sending numbers directly from each polling station to the Central Election Commission? Or why not buy scanners which can scan paper ballots and count the results?  If there is any suspicion, it all can be checked by the Central Election Commission and the police. There is a lot of experience from other nations; we do not have to invent the bicycle again.

Instead, Hr 1 billion was spent this time to equip each polling station with a web camera. The online video stream shows how people receive their ballots and then cast them later. But the count matters more than the vote.

For now it does not seem like the government, or the opposition is interested in changing the system. Nobody wants to kill the opportunity that they might want to use sooner or later.

Kyiv Post staff writer Svitlana Tuchynska can be reached at tuchynska@kyivpost.com

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