Citizens of Ukraine will head to the polls on Sunday, as the country elects regional and city legislators as well as mayors. With conflict ongoing in the Eastern part of the country, and efforts to decentralize political power taking place, local government has become more important than ever before. As residents cast their ballots, international observers will monitor polling places to ensure a fair and honest election.

Among those international observers is Erik Herron, Eberly Family Professor of Political Science in the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics at West Virginia University. He has been volunteering as an international observer since 1999, serving on missions with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, International Republican Institute, and Committee for Open Democracy. He has observed 12 elections in Azerbaijan, the Republic of Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine; this election observation mission with the Committee for Open Democracy will be his 13th. For this election cycle, Herron will be based in Odesa, a large city in the South.

“The elections will be highly contested, especially the race for mayor,” Herron said. “I have observed elections in Odesa before, and unfortunately it has a reputation for dirty campaigning.”

Herron and the other observers will be collecting information about the process that will be used by the Committee for Open Democracy to compile a report and provide advice about how to improve the election process. Herron will visit 10-to-12 polling sites throughout the day, interacting with commissioners, other observers, and voters. At the end of voting, he will observe the vote counting process overnight. Herron notes that observers typically work throughout the entire process, from the opening of the polls in the morning until the votes are tabulated early the next morning.

The job of Ukraine’s election administrators has been made more difficult by the recent conflict. “Russian aggression in Crimea and the East has made it impossible to hold elections across the entire sovereign territory of Ukraine,” he said. “But, like other countries that have held elections during wartime (including the US during the Civil War), Ukraine is moving forward to elect officials.”

“It is important to also note that Ukraine’s problems are not solely due to Russia,” he said. “Ukraine has been a highly corrupt country, and some citizens have become incredibly cynical about the political process due to the large role played by powerful business interests, efforts to commit fraud, and the collapse of the economy, due in part to Russia’s aggression.”

Having observers on the ground collecting data, speaking to officials and monitoring polling places is the best way to produce recommendations for a fair and honest election process, he said.

“If the process is going well, observers have little to do,” he said. “I always say that I hope for a boring election because that typically means that the process is being managed really well.”



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