This year turned out to be very different and challenging for all humankind. Ukraine was also on board, of course. In addition to the pandemic, 2020 brought our country elections under a new Election Code and a new electoral system, a new form of ballots, and many new electoral procedures. How did Civil Network OPORA overcome the challenges of this year? We have collected a few success stories to be proud of when looking back and inspired for new achievements.
OPORA deployed almost 2,500 independent observers to work during 5 election days
Ukraine held local elections on 25 October 2020. From the beginning of the election process in August until the end of all second rounds, which took place on 15 November, 22 November, 29 November, and 6 December, there were 5 election days. OPORA deployed a total of 2,432 professional and trained independent observers to watch local elections. The observation covered polling stations selected via sociologically based sampling and territorial election commissions. Besides that, long-term observers, analysts, communications specialists, social media monitors, and lawyers had been working for several months since the start of the election process.
We have also managed to conduct a small observation of by-election to the Parliament in district #179 (Kharkiv oblast) on 15 March.
Also this year, OPORA published printed final reports on observation results of the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukrainian and English languages. You can get a free printed copy by ordering the edition in our bookstore: https://www.longread.oporaua.org/bookstore. Online versions of the reports are also available.
OPORA most popular ballot paper template
OPORA's communication team was the first to develop a neutral ballot template without any political traces, containing funny, made-up names of parties and candidates. The media and electoral subjects used this template quite actively and often. If you google "ballot2020" ("бюлетень2020"), you will see OPORA's template ballots first.
OPORA’s awareness-raising materials about the new form of ballots were also trendy. For example, an inquiry concerning the convenience of ballots and videos explaining how to complete a new ballot and write numbers correctly, as well as which other manners of writing numbers will be valid, had 796,110 watches on social networks.
Five useful services from OPORA
OPORA launched the Map of Violations as usual on the eve of each election: https://www.oporaua.org/map-reports. This year, the Map contained 2,251 recorded and legally verified violations.
Given that local elections were held for the first time under the new electoral system in territorial communities after the decentralization and boundary changes, we prepared the Map of Communities to better understand in which community, with how many voters, and under which system elections will be held. The deposit calculator was another our service that was useful in the preparation of candidates for the election process. Besides that, we had updated the service allowing to analyze the expenses on political advertising on social networks: https://fb.oporaua.org/.
However, ourAndroid application "Elections 2020" received the greatest recognition. In addition to a convenient offline full-text search in the Electoral Code, it also has a protocol verifier that allowed commission members who used the application to submit error-free electoral documents instantly, without any corrections and recalculations. Almost 20,000 users downloaded the application on their mobile phones.
To keep on track of the systematic parliamentary monitoring, we have also developed a chatbot "MP at a glance".
Almost 100 thousand voters changed their voting address
A procedure for the change of election address has entered into force in Ukraine on 1 July. According to the Electoral Code innovations, citizens can now vote in local elections at their residence address, instead of registration address. Thus, 99,525 voters used this procedure.
It is also available online but can be used only once a year in the inter-election period. If anyone had not managed to vote at the residence address in these elections, this is high time to prepare for the next one and change the election address before it starts. OPORA has developed detailed step-by-step instructions for this: https://l.oporaua.org/vyborcha-adresa.
We would like to remind that according to official statistics, there are more than 5 million internally mobile citizens who can use the procedure: 1.4 million internally displaced persons; more than 1 million people not having a registration address; and 3.3 million so-called "migrant workers", registered at one address but live at another. These innovations became available thanks to the long-term cooperation of experts from competent NGOs, including OPORA, MPs of several convocations of the Parliament, representatives of the Central Election Commission, and the State Register of Voters.
3 series about elections
This year, OPORA launched the third season of informational and educational programs "Elections inside out" in partnership with hromadske.ua and 24 channel. Thus, 8 episodes were aired on television, each dedicated to various electoral topics, presented in a fun way for better perception. Thus, voters could learn why elections are needed in general, whether gender equality is present in government, how accessible the electoral process is for people with disabilities, and that it's possible to vote at a place of residence, not at a registration address. All issues are available at OPORA's Youtube channel and Facebook page. "Elections inside out" had 104,639 views on OPORA's social networks. Channel 24 broadcast the program 60 times from 11 June to 17 August. It had an audience of 21,755,810 people.
Together with the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, OPORA's experts also prepared two educational series - for members of territorial and precinct election commissions. The first explains duties and responsibilities of territorial election commission members. All 12 series 3-5 minutes each are available at: https://osvita.diia.gov.ua/courses/tvk. The course for members of precinct election commissions was prepared by the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine and the Civil Network OPORA with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation. Series tell how to equip polling stations properly, work as a precinct commission member, count votes on different types of ballots, and transport electoral documents to a territorial election commission. You can watch all 10 series 5-6 minutes each at: https://osvita.diia.gov.ua/courses/dvk.
OPORA's incriminating research of political advertising on social networks
During the year, data analysts and social media monitors prepared systematic reviews of political advertising on Facebook - who used it, how much they spent, whether they used disinformation or "black PR" against opponents with impunity, and so on. For example, some of our researches that exposed page networks and fake accounts were among the reasons for removing such accounts by Facebook. All materials on the topic are available at: https://www.oporaua.org/category/vybory/polit_ad. The service for convenient analysis of political advertising https://fb.oporaua.org/ has also been updated. Our analysts recorded an online webinar on how to use this service, which was viewed 859 times.
Before the elections started, we prepared informational materials for candidates. These materials explained how to correctly use political ads in social networks, set up advertisements, and report expenses. Step by step instructions were available in text and videoformats. In total, these materials had 1,509 and 2,441 views, respectively.
At the beginning of 2020, experts had also finalized the article about expenses on political advertising in the 2019 presidential campaign. The article became a plot for short film "Facebook. Playing without rules", which was viewed on OPORA's pages in social networks 15,910 times, and a basis for aresearch on the use of personal data. The data on expenses in the 2019 parliamentary campaign became a basis for researches on disinformation.
The lack of Ukrainian election law regulations covering the use of social networks in campaigning required the development of short-term and long-term mechanisms to improve the situation already in the local elections. Thus, to ensure prompt action, our experts prepared a set of materials on how each user can respond to unlabeled political advertising on social networks. For example, the motivational video "Stop scrolling. Report political ads", which gathered 24,101 views on OPORA's pages. For the long-term impact, we produced a short film titled "Open Election Data" and prepared suggestions to improve regulations in this area. This film received 8,443 views on OPORA's pages.
More than 60,000 police officers took OPORA's remote training course
OPORA developed an online course for police officers, "How to Identify and Respond to Electoral Offenses." More than 60,000 police officers passed it during the local elections. The course covered the stages of an election process, election day, administrative and criminal liability of candidates, voters, commission members, and observers for election violations. Lectures were presented by representatives of OPORA, election law experts, and representatives of the National Police. All video lecturesare available on OPORA's Youtube-channel.
And at the beginning of the year we also managed to open the first in Ukraine "Model polling station" in the Lviv State University of Internal Affairs. The university introduced a new course titled "Electoral Offenses in the Activities of the National Police of Ukraine" in the Lviv State University of Internal Affairs for third-year law students and law enforcement officers in western Ukraine who receive training. This practical training room, "Model polling station", will help law enforcement officers put theoretical knowledge about the role of police during elections and response to election violations into practice.
OPORA trained more than 300 civil servants on the inadmissibility of administrative resources' abuse.
The abuse of administrative resources is a rather traditional problem in Ukrainian elections. It is used a bit differently these days, and mass coercion to vote for a specific candidate, for example, in industrial production, etc., is much less common. However, candidates holding state offices still mix their civil duties and campaigning efforts. To address this issue, OPORA's experts conducted a series of online training for civil servants and representatives of local self-government at various levels from all over the country on the eve of the local elections. Thus, over 300 people have been trained.
At the beginning of the election process, OPORA sent letters to city mayors of oblast centers and Kyiv Mayor calling to sign the Code of Conduct for Public Officials During the Election Process and follow it in local elections. The document was supported by 34 signatories from 16 oblasts of Ukraine.
Social video about the administrative resource and how it can be countered was viewed 109,367 times on OPORA's social network pages.
OPORA has again studied the distribution of subventions on social and economic development. As in previous years, political players often used this state program for personal promotion, especially before the election. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine had distributed this year UAH 1 billion 682 million on social and economic development, particularly on 1,159 objects and measures in different oblasts of Ukraine. Although the openness or transparency of subvention distribution did not improve, the Cabinet of Ministers has started to allocate funds in line with its own priorities, maybe for the first time since 2015.
OPORA's wide-scale monitoring of polling station accessibility in Ukraine
Electoral rights ombudsmen from Civil Network OPORA monitored the accessibility of election precincts and commissions before the local elections in July-August 2020. We selected 500 polling stations across the country based on a sociological sampling for this monitoring and developed a special assessment tool to determine the accessibility of polling stations.
Thus, only 3% of polling stations in Ukraine (15 polling stations in the sample) are accessible to low-mobility groups, 56.2% (281 polling stations in the sample) have bad access, and 40.8% (204 polling stations in the sample) are inaccessible. Detailed monitoring results are available at: https://www.oporaua.org/report/vybory/vyborchi-ombudsmeni/dostupnist, and examples of polling stations with different level of access are at: https://ombudsman.oporaua.org/dostupnist. This page also has a link to an online form that each voter can complete, thus expanding the database of inaccessible polling stations.
Besides that, OPORA's electoral ombudsmen presented 5 final monitoring reports on the observance of citizen voting rights during two election campaigns in 2019:
- Respect for the voting rights of people with disabilities: https://www.oporaua.org/report/vybory/vyborchi-ombudsmeni/19844-dotrimannia-viborchikh-prav-liudei-z-invalidnistiu-pid-chas-viborchikh-kampanii-2019-roku;
- Protecting voting rights of servicemen: https://www.oporaua.org/report/vybory/vyborchi-ombudsmeni/19883-zakhist-viborchikh-prav-viiskovosluzhbovtsiv;
- Problems in election process at special polling stations: https://www.oporaua.org/report/vybory/vyborchi-ombudsmeni/19902-problemni-momenti-viborchogo-protsesu-na-spetsialnikh-viborchikh-dilnitsiakh;
- Problems in the formation of voter lists and the change of voting location: https://www.oporaua.org/report/vybory/vyborchi-ombudsmeni/19972-problemni-aspekti-formuvannia-spiskiv-vibortsiv-ta-zmini-mistsia-golosuvannia-v-konteksti-prezidentskikh-i-parlamentskikh-viboriv-2019-roku;
- Analysis of administrative and criminal offenses: https://www.oporaua.org/report/vybory/vyborchi-ombudsmeni/19903-analiz-administrativnikh-ta-kriminalnikh-pravoporushen-zafiksovanikh-pid-chas-viboriv-prezidenta-ta-narodnikh-deputativ-2019-roku.
All reports for two election campaigns in 2019 were presented online by OPORA's public ombudsmen. There were also several discussions on problematic aspects in preparation for this year's monitoring. Videos are available at OPORA's Youtube channel. Ombudsmen work under project "Electoral reform to strengthen the power of agents of change and support public dialog", which is being implemented by the Civil Network OPORA with the EU's assistance.
OPORA's experts joined the development of 6 draft laws
There were several stages of finalizing the Electoral Code this year. At each stage, OPORA's experts joined the working groups that developed the corresponding regulations. Besides that, they participated in many online and offline public discussions, public consultations, roundtables, and forums on the improvement of electoral legislation in general and the accessibility of polling stations for low-mobile groups in particular.
During the spring quarantine, OPORA launched several weekly live programs "OPORA Live" and "MP Day". During the broadcasts, OPORA's experts asked MPs and other competent experts about current issues, such as parliament's work during quarantine, the openness of law-making, restoration of reforming the electoral law, etc. On May 22, OPORA held a wide-scale online marathon "Local Elections: Risk Assessment and List of Solutions" on how to organize and hold the next local elections in autumn, in regard to the legislation and in practice, as well as in line with international standards of free and fair competition. 54,920 users watched the event on OPORA's resources.
In the end, the Verkhovna Rada adopted draft law #3485, which was drafted with the help of our experts. Among other things, the draft law included amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses and the Criminal Code, developed by OPORA's experts together with the Main Investigation Department, which ensured the certainty of punishment for electoral offenses. Unfortunately, other draft laws on which our experts worked,#3971 and #4117, were not adopted.
Our experts also participated in the development of draft law #3612 on democracy through a national referendum, which was adopted as the basis. From September to December, the new draft law on local referendums was in development. Besides that, OPORA's experts joined the working group, which started developing the law on political parties.
OPORA's experts also analyzed and assessed the registered bills. For example, criticizing statements concerning draft law #3294, which restricted access to information during the quarantine, but was recalled after all, and draft law #3196-д, which allowed the Security Service of Ukraine to make submissions concerning activities of political parties to the CEC, which was not supported by the Parliament. Besides that, we gave an assessment to draft law #1043 concerning a special procedure for consideration of draft laws in the second reading in the Parliament, which was eventually adopted.
Our representatives also participated in consultations and the development of some bylaws. For example, they submitted propositions to the Ministry of Digital Transformation on updating the list of state data sets that need to be made public and proposals to the Central Election Commission on the development of the procedure for changing and determining the election address.
OPORA's monitoring of Parliamentary activities
Traditionally, we also monitored the work of the Verkhovna Rada. Thus, we summarized law-makers' achievements in their first six months and analyzed the first year of the Parliament of IX convocation. We also studied activities of parliamentary committees and relatives of MPs, hired by their law-making colleagues. Besides that, we watched how Ukrainian parliamentarians worked and communicated in the new format of work using modern technical means during the quarantine.
Based on open parliamentary data, we developed a chatbot, "MP at a glance," to inform as many voters as possible about MPs' powers and duties so that they could evaluate their work.
OPORA's analysis of the composition of local self-government bodies before and after elections
Local elections have changed the political landscape of local self-government bodies. However, to see what changes have taken place, it was necessary to analyze the initial data before elections and then monitor these parameters after elections. Thus, OPORA analysts have prepared several studies on heads of local self-government bodies, the party affiliation of local councilors, gender balance in local councils, and political parties' ability to increase their influence at the level of small communities.
OPORA's successful awareness campaign
Every election, OPORA informs the citizens about the course of the electoral process. Thus, from August to December, we published 2,146 regional news on our website, covering the election process in each oblast.
Besides that, we have published several hundred educational materials on this year's election process innovations. These materials include short video explainers from our experts on essential aspects of the election process, lectures on electoral systems, and social advertising videos explaining how to complete a ballot, what voters should not do at a polling station, etc.
Each big information campaign realized by OPORA contains detailed step-by-step instructions and has clear wording. We have prepared 3 important long reads this year, which were read 56,283 times:
· instruction on the election address change (17,907 views);
· filling in new ballots (36,282 views);
· instruction for setting up political advertising on Facebook (1,509 views).
In partnership with the British communications agency Zinc Network, we prepared a small motivational campaign for social networks one week before the election. With this campaign, we called on voters to come to the polls and follow anti-epidemic rules. Thus, a series of these posts and videos reached 2,458,400 users. And at the end of the election process, we also jointly prepared a video about our observation's summary and results, which was viewed by almost 584 thousand users.
At the end of 2020, we have the following quantitative media indicators:
· the number of subscribers on our Facebook page has grown to almost 42 thousand;
· in total, all the videos on our Facebook page were viewed around 100,550 times on average;
· videos on our Youtube channel have received almost 1.5 million views this year;
· we had nearly 940 thousand visitors on our website this year;
· mass media mentioned our organization almost 7.5 thousand times.
We have accomplished a lot this year. And all this was possible with the support of our partners USAID, EU, IFES, RADA Program (East Europe Foundation).
And finally, Civil Network OPORA celebrated its 15th anniversary on 14 December 2020.