A big part of election observation is carefully following the chain of custody of ballot papers from the beginning to the end of the voting procedure. Our election observation mission saw the ballot papers for the presidential election in Ukraine from the moment they were printed in Kyiv, through delivery to the district commissions and to the precinct commissions where voting took place. On election day, May 25, we watched every step of the movement of these vitally important papers — except when each voter made his or her own choice in the privacy of the voting booth. This first photograph is from just before the polls opened, when the safe containing the ballot papers was opened, and its contents confirmed by all the precinct commission members and accredited observers present.
This is what we’re talking about: a ballot for the early presidential election in Ukraine, held on May 25. 21 citizens of Ukraine stood for president. Voters were presented with the names of these candidates in alphabetical order, along with a one-line biography. A stamped and signed counterfoil at the top is to guarantee the legitimacy of each ballot paper, while ensuring the privacy of the vote.
At the close of voting at 8 o’clock in the evening, the polling place is closed, and a meeting of the precinct commission is held to count the ballots and then sign protocols confirming the count. Every ballot result was read aloud by one member, freely examined by any and all, and sorted into piles. The precinct I observed reflected the results common throughout Ukraine, and the biggest pile of ballots you see here are the votes cast for what turned out to be the victorious candidate, Petro Poroshenko.
Physical transfer of paper ballots and protocols is essential to official results of voting in Ukraine. Here you see the precinct commission I observed presenting all elections materials and documents to the district commission, where they were officially accepted by a vote of the district commission members. The event you see here transpired at 7 o’clock in the morning, 11 hours after the polls had closed and 7 hours after the precinct commission had determined their result. Hundreds of election workers from all the towns and villages around waited patiently throughout the night and into the next day to present the results in the proper manner.
After the district commission accepts and approves the results from a precinct, the vote count for each candidate is sent electronically to the central election commission in Kyiv, and is then considered to be a part of the official, national result. The physical ballots are stored securely, for eventual transfer to Kyiv — all under armed guard.
The procedure followed in Ukraine is labourious, detailed, and time-consuming, but it is designed to anticipate and to defeat the many ways in which a free and fair election can be subverted. When I saw a personal and at times emotional commitment to bureaucratic detail, I did not see mere officiousness. I saw instead a real desire to see that the right to vote was respected for all Ukrainian citizens.