On 6 December 2020, the second round of mayoral election took place in Kryvyi Rih. Kostiantyn Pavlov (Opposition Platform - For Life) competed with Dmytro Shevchyk (Servant of the People). According to the 25 October vote results, these candidates took the second and third places, respectively, while the candidate with the largest number of votes, Yurii Vilkul (The Vilkul Bloc "Ukrainian Perspective"), refused to run further.
Civil Network OPORA conducted long-term and short-term observation of the Kryvyi Rih mayoral election and assessed the quality of election administration and legitimacy of the vote. On the election day, we deployed 60 short-term observers from the organization to evaluate the work of PECs selected based on the representative sampling.
According to OPORA's data, the campaigning was quite competitive in the second round. Although the situation with COVID-19 had worsened, candidates continued to communicate with voters, using various forms of campaigning actively. Unfortunately, the wide-scale election campaigns of Kostiantyn Pavlov and Dmytro Shevchyk did not include direct debates between them on regional media. Thus, although voters had two political alternatives to choose from, they lacked information about candidates' programs and city development plans due to the absence of public dialog.
Like in other Ukrainian cities, candidates or groups of their supporters disseminated negative, provocative, or knowingly false information about competitors on the eve of the election day. The experience of 2020 local elections, including Kryvyi Rih, has demonstrated the importance of introducing additional legal mechanisms against disinformation and dissemination of false information during elections and strengthening legislative and practical guarantees of objective and impartial media coverage. Cases of hidden political advertising in the media, and some of them being openly biased, contradicted the basic principles of a democratic election process. It is necessary to prevent such issues via legislation and regulations of the professional media community based on transparent and uniform standards. Social networks played a vital role in the mayoral election in Kryvyi Rih. However, officially available information about candidates' political advertising expenses on the internet does not fully reflect the real picture of campaign financing.
Although the election process was competitive, the second round of the mayoral election in Kryvyi Rih shows that the state and civil society must work further on the prevention of abuse of administrative resources.
Two candidates had direct or indirect access to administrative resources, contrary to good public administration standards during elections. The problem was more acute in the election campaign of candidate Kostiantyn Pavlov, who de facto campaigned while in office as city mayor adviser. The incumbent mayor Yurii Vilkul publicly supported Kostiantyn Pavlov, while the latter had focused the major public activities of the city council executive committee around himself. Candidate Kostiantyn Pavlov mixed his activities as the city mayor advisor and as a candidate, and the local self-government body changed its usual approach to public activities. As a result, Kryvyi Rih City Council has failed to follow democratic standards of public administration during elections. The candidate also promised to increase social assistance to disadvantaged citizen groups and initiated new infrastructure projects and budget programs.
Observers have also reported abuses of administrative resources in favor of candidate Dmytro Shevchyk. Such incidents were less systematic but involved central government officials and President Volodymyr Zelenskyi. For example, the Ukrainian President officially supported candidate Dmytro Shevchyk at an official meeting on city development, with officials of different levels attending. However, the Election Code prohibits campaigning at government events. Given that Volodymyr Zelenskyi had publicly supported the candidate, his official appeal to voters in the city to participate in the vote was a purposeful mobilization of voters loyal to this candidate.
As a non-governmental organization, OPORA makes efforts to develop self-regulatory practices for state authorities and their officials to prevent administrative resources abuse during elections. It is impossible to prevent such violations only at the formal procedure level, although the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine should strengthen the relevant legislative mechanisms. However, we believe that state authorities at all levels should themselves start training their employees and officials on how to prevent politically motivated abuses and form internal standards for activities in an election process.
The course of Election Day demonstrated the ability of election administration bodies to ensure high-quality implementation of election procedures in difficult epidemic conditions and in a low interest of political parties participating in the first round of voting to organize the second round transparently and within their functions. However, the constant risk of destabilizing the work of election commissions, which remained relevant at each stage of the local election vote, indicates the need to review existing approaches to the staffing of election commissions, their funding, and the verification of professionalism of their members.
Given the recurrent and typical procedural violations of the law on election day, particularly the disclosure of ballot secrecy by demonstrating or photographing the ballot, as well as non-compliance with the procedure for issuing ballots, lawmakers, expert society, and law enforcement agencies should develop efficient algorithms against possible abuses and focus on real examples of prosecution for similar offenses.
OPORA considers it necessary to draw all political parties and candidates' attention in local elections in Ukraine to the barbaric practice of manipulating public opinion by publishing exit polls conducted by unknown companies and without informing about the methodology. Unfortunately, political actors often use questionable exit poll results to discredit voting results and create voter distrust. Public persons and celebrities, including journalists, sometimes do promote this technology by illegally posting poll results before the vote ends. We believe that politicians and civil society leaders should be interested in developing reliable and reputable tools to study citizen electoral moods and motivation.
Typical violations on the election day
To assess the implementation of each electoral procedure and compliance with the law by each participant in the election process on the election day, OPORA's observers monitored key procedures in morning meetings, the opening of precincts, the voting process, vote tabulation, and transportation of precinct documents to territorial election commissions.
OPORA has deployed observers to 60 polling stations in Kryvyi Rih, located evenly throughout the community. Before the observation, OPORA held 2 rounds of training and special Election Day simulations involving possible situations and incidents. The observers were deployed based on random stratified sampling. The margin of error for different questions in this report ranged from 6.28% to 10%. OPORA's statistically-based observation is an independent activity, realized exclusively by OPORA, aimed to provide Independent information on the course of the election and detect typical violations during the vote and counting.
In general, election administration bodies have adequately organized the voting process. They have managed to balance the maximum opportunities to exercise citizen voting rights and anti-epidemic measures. However, observers have noticed several problems in the provision of polling stations and polling stations' inaccessibility for voters with disabilities.
According to the observation summary for the election day, OPORA's observers state that 81.48% of polling stations were free from any violations that could cause the distortion of election outcomes or serve as a basis for invalidating the vote at such PECs. At the same time, isolated procedural violations occurred at 16.67% of PECs. The quantity and types of these violations are usual for these local elections, which started on 25 October.
Disclosure of the secret vote was the most frequent violation in the second round of the mayoral election in Kryvyi Rih. Thus, voters often filled in ballots outside of a voting booth or demonstrated their marked ballots. Observers detected such incidents at 9.09% of PECs. However, they were mostly spontaneous, not systemic or planned, and stopped as soon as election commission members or observers responded. Such episodes require detailed analysis and identification of the reasons for the recurrence of such actions to create conditions to minimize illegal practices, especially in situations caused, for example, by the lack of proper lighting in voting booths. To compare, on 25 October, observers noticed incidents related to the demonstration of marked ballots at 7.52% of PECs in the country.
Another frequent problem that OPORA's observers faced on the election day was a violation of the procedure for issuing ballots to voters by members of election commissions. Observers detected such abuses at 7.27% of polling stations. As we can see, both commission members and voters continue interpreting formal law requirements arbitrarily. If such actions are of a planned nature, they may negatively impact election results and indicate attempts of forgery. Therefore, there is a need for systematic awareness-raising and other activities aimed to prevent such abuses in advance.
The frequency of ballot photography has slightly increased in all cities where the second round took place, compared to the 25 October vote. In Kryvyi Rih, observers detected such incidents at 5.45% of polling stations (compared to 1.6% of PECs on 25 October). Commission members usually responded to such incidents adequately and stopped the illegal actions of voters. However, if such cases are not detected in time and get a proper response, it may be possible to implement controlled voting technologies.
OPORA observers did not find any other critical incidents or severe violations during the vote, in particular attempts of ballot-box stuffing or ballot damaging.
Having observed the realization of fundamental procedures that precede polling stations' opening, we can state that preparations for the voting process were appropriately implemented. Election commissions did not have issues with gathering a quorum despite the epidemic situation and withdrawal of commission members. Thus, only 1.82% of PECs failed to gather a quorum for a timely morning meeting. OPORA's observers detected some procedural violations during the PEC morning meetings. For example, 13.56% did not keep the meeting minutes or did so in a manner not provided by law (for example, filling in the data with a pencil).
All polling stations in the city, covered by the representative observation of OPORA, opened on time (1.69% of polling stations started the voting process earlier than the time established by law). Commissions have also met the requirements for the closing time of polling stations, and all interested voters had the opportunity to vote freely. According to observers, polling stations were free from queues at the time of their closure.
OPORA's observers reported that commission members did not commit any serious violations of the law when closing polling stations and counting the votes. However, several procedural violations occurred at 5.66% of PECs, related to incorrect completion of electoral documentation. Compared to the 25 October vote, when observers detected such cases at 10.23% of PECs, the situation has improved, thanks to a significantly simplified counting process. Observers also did not reveal any statistically significant cases of obstruction of the legal vote count process by candidates, authorized persons of party cells, proxies of candidates, observers, or other persons present at the meetings. At all PECs, observers could easily obtain copies of the vote count protocols.
In general, the counting process was well organized. Observers did not notice any conflicts, deliberate abuse by election commission members, or illegal attempts to interfere in the election process that could adversely affect the election results.
Voter turnout on the second round (based on OPORA's data)
Civil Network OPORA has also counted voter turnout based on a statistically representative sample of the polling stations covered by the organization's official observers on 6 December second round. We gathered the data as of 12:00, 4:00 and 8:00 PM.
Despite the problematic epidemic situation, quarantine restrictions, and locally-based electoral process, voter turnout was usual. The percentage was similar to the 25 October national vote and much higher than the 29 November vote in Chernivtsi (23%).
According to OPORA's data, voter turnout in Kryvyi Rih as of 8:00 PM was 34.60% (error margin - 1.4%). Voter turnout in Ukraine on 25 October at this hour was 35.94% (error margin - 1.14%). During the 22 November second round, the integrated voter turnout in 11 cities was lower (29.23%). On 15 November, the integrated voter turnout in the second round in 7 cities was only 23.9%.
Voter turnout throughout the election day in Kryvyi Rih was 14.65% at 12:00 PM (error margin - 0.82%), and 28% at 4:00 PM (error margin - 1.25%).
Violations of electoral legislation, verified by observers
During the second round of the vote, OPORA's observers identified and verified 108 incidents with features of an electoral law violation and reported some of them to the National Police of Ukraine.
Seventeen incidents (16%) involved breaking the voting secrecy by voters. These violations usually occurred when voters refused to fill in their ballots in a ballot booth, voted with some other person, or even deliberately disclosed their vote to third persons. Some ballot secrecy violations may have occurred when voters took pictures of their ballots (4 incidents).
11 violations (10%) concerned the presence of unauthorized persons at polling stations, based on the Election Code. These could be representatives of exit poll companies, the State Emergency Service, police, or some unidentified persons. OPORA's observers emphasized to PEC members that it's inadmissible that outsiders stay inside polling stations, and usually stopped such violations.
Fifteen detected violations (13%) show inadequate provision of polling stations, inaccessibility of polling stations for independent voting, and non-compliance with anti-epidemiological measures by PEC members. In this context, OPORA welcomes the Government of Ukraine and the CEC's efforts in the development of the regulatory framework for the improvement of accessibility of polling stations for all groups of voters, which should be a top priority for the state.
During the election day, there were 5 cases OPORA's observers faced obstruction of their activities. Two of them concerned illegal anti-epidemic measures realized by members of PECs. In particular, these conflicts have been resolved legally through the official response of TECs to the complaint of OPORA's observers. The other two incidents concerned situations where observers were illegally prevented from recording specific events during the voting process.
Four violations concerned taking out ballots outside of election precincts. Besides that, copies instead of ballots were found in ballot boxes at two polling stations. Such incidents may be related to illegal controlled voting schemes. A voter has made an unsuccessful attempt to take ballot paper outside of the election precinct and was brought to administrative liability.
There were cases with signs of voter transportation at 3 polling stations. In 3 cases, observers recorded violations of the procedure for issuing and receiving ballots related to voting without presenting the necessary document and using the "Diia" application without mechanisms for digital verification of the passport.OPORA's observers detected and additionally verified 4 violations during the vote count process. Thus, commission members used a pencil to complete the protocol at one of the polling stations, which is expressly prohibited by the Election Code. At another polling station, PEC members banned observers from attending at a distance that would allow oversight of the vote count. There were also some delays in the vote count process and some other procedural violations.
Two incidents concerned the falsification of electoral documents. One of them involved entering a false completion date in the tabulation protocol. PEC members are motivated to put the next date in the protocols to get higher compensation. Such incidents demonstrate the importance of introducing sufficient payments to commission members that would not cause artificial delays in the counting process or input of false information in tabulation protocols. Another incident of this group concerned the drawing up a report on violation by an observer of one of the candidates, particularly the damage of a ballot box, which contained false information.
The other 43 incidents (40%) include a wide range of procedural violations related to keeping minutes of morning meetings, issuing ballots by one PEC member instead of two, exceeding the number of ballots issued at the polls, etc.
Network OPORA calls on electoral subjects to facilitate the investigation of all electoral violations by the National Police of Ukraine and not to neglect the mechanisms of the legal response to incidents, regardless of the voting results.
To candidates for the Mayor of Kryvyi Rih
- Facilitate the legal vote count and determination of election results.
- Use every available legal measure to respond to violations, avoiding groundless allegations.
- Fully comply with legislative requirements on campaign financing reports.
To the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine
- Initiate an inclusive dialogue to study the use of legislation in 2020 local elections and prepare any needed changes to address its drawbacks.
Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine
- Audit the measures undertaken against the increase in morbidity during the election process to increase the state's ability to ensure proper organization of the voting process in similar situations.
To the National Police of Ukraine
- Inform the media and the public about the interim and final investigation results of violations in Kryvyi Rih and other Ukrainian cities that were committed during local elections.
- Continue systematic practices aimed to increase the competence of its employees on electoral matters.
To central executive and local self-government bodies
- Initiate internal practices to prevent administrative resource abuse during elections based on Ukrainian legislation and international democratic standards.
- Based on the existing criteria and additional assessments of polling station accessibility for persons with disabilities and other low-mobility population groups, develop programs for the gradual adaptation of all premises to current needs of the inclusion.
Local and national media
- To strictly follow the Election Code requirements concerning objective and impartial coverage of the election process and develop exclusively professional standards for informing the voters by the media community.