Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ukraine: Concerns about Home Voting

Photo: Marcin Skubiszewski

by Tammy Lynch

A ruling Saturday by the Kyiv Administrative Court requiring medical certificates for those who will vote at home caused confusion this morning as Ukraine's presidential election polls opened.

Just after midnight early Saturday morning, the court ruled on a complaint that home voting procedures were not appropriate. The parliament had allowed voting at home even for citizens without proof of disability. PM and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko has claimed that these loose regulations allow fraud.

According to the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYUT), this weekend's ruling means that voters must produce a medical certificate and have demonstrated difficulty moving outside of their home.

For those unfamiliar with this procedure, a special portable ballot box is taken to the homes of voters on a previously approved list. The law requires that a ballot is given to a voter, and that the voter marks it with no assistance from voting officials. It is required to be a secret ballot.

In 2004, although many regions were praised for their home voting procedures, this writer witnessed a scuffle in a Kyiv polling place, when a political party election observer claimed double the number of ballots were returned in the portable ballot box than were originally provided to officials visiting homes. Additionally, in some areas, the number of those voting at home increased throughout voting day. Following the second round of the 2004 presidential election, the home voting procedures were tightened. For the first time, medical certificates were required when requesting to vote at home.

In 2009, Ukraine's parliament removed the requirement of a medical certificate for the home voting procedure. Kyiv's Administrative Court now says that legislation is in error.

However, the Central Election Commission on Sunday morning claimed the court's ruling was impossible to enforce at this late date, and also claimed they never received a copy of it from the court itself. Finally, they vowed to enforce accepted legislation, not a sudden court ruling.

At the same time, officials in the Donetsk region claimed that 35,000 voters would be suddenly disenfranchized by the move. It is unclear how they determined this number.

According to the Ukraine Ministry of Interior, 781,290 people applied for and were granted the right to vote at home.

As of Saturday, three Eastern regions had the highest number of home voters - Donetsk (95,000,) Luhansk and Kharkiv (56,000). These three regions account for almost 20% of all home voting ballots.

BYUT further claimed that in some cities of Donetsk, up to 10% of the population was registered vote at home.

The Bloc's press service released the following: "In 8 out of Donetsk oblast 22 voting districts the number of home-voting requests tops 10%, with over 11% in the other 4 districts. Such statistics are in stark contrast with other Ukraine oblasts where in the majority of voting districts the number of voters willing to vote at home does not exceed 0.5 – 1% of the registered voters."

BYUT did not release the actual data on which it based this press release.

It is impossible to know if these numbers are indeed larger than they should be statistically.

The Ministry did not announce the official number of voters in Donetsk. But the Donetsk region contains almost 10% of Ukraine's population, or about 4.8 million persons. The number of requests naturally would be larger than the total number of requests in other regions.

Moreover, Donetsk is a mining/industrial region. There is every reason to believe that there could be a higher number of disabled voters in Donetsk than in other areas.

Regardless, Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko did announce that the voting rolls included 36, 881, 300 persons throughout Ukraine. If Donetsk's voting population is also 10% of the country, or around 3.6 million, 95,000 at home votes would seem a realistic number. But, again, there's no way to know or sure.

Given past problems with home voting, concern is understandable, and home voting statistics may be some of the most interesting to come following the election -- as will BYUT's comments about the issue. The Bloc's pre-election statements and current confusion provide an interesting jumpstart to potential fraud complaints.

Follow @TammyLynch, @UkraineElect, @ukrpravda_full (Ukrainian/Russian), #elect_ua

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