Tuesday, November 23, 2004

On Exit Polls and Fraud

In comments below, J. Scott brings up a good question: knowing that exit polls can be unreliable, what else do the opposition rely on to make their case that the elections were fraudulent?

There are several factors working hand-in-hand that discredit the elections process. The exit poll is not the only piece of evidence, it merely reinforces the rest. It's too bad that they could not do a parallel vote tabulation (PVT) as they did in Georgia - it's far more accurate, but requires access to the counting process by independent observers - something barred by the Ukrainian authorities. In Georgia, when the PVT and the exit poll numbers jived, the official results became the suspicious outlier.

But there's plenty here already.

  • In Donetsk, Yanukovych's home turf, the voter turnout suddenly shot up twenty points from the first round, to an improbable 98%. This is in a region where a sizable number of the voting population are resident across the border in Russia - and so it becomes possible for others to vote in their name. This alone could be enough to compensate for the 3% lead Yanukovych enjoys by the official results.

  • About 5% of voters were added to the voter list on election day - very high number for a normal election. Combined with the evidence that residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were bused to other areas to vote multiple times with absentee ballots, we can assume that a fair number of these added voters represent multiple voting.

  • Observers were barred from polling stations and from the counting process in far greater numbers than in round one.

  • We know that extreme duress was on the residents in eastern Ukraine to vote for Yanukovych. There are reports of pre-filled absentee ballots distributed in the workplace, and general pressure to vote correctly or be out of a job.

  • There are reports of precinct-level results being entered incorrectly into the final protocols, shifting votes from Yuschenko to Yanukovych.

  • Last week, senior police officials from Kharkiv reported that they have been directed to fix the elections in Yanukovych's favor, and during the first round, they guarded a room of 500,000 pre-marked ballots and distributed them to various stations on election day.

But all that sort of glosses over the unspoken fact of the matter. Which goes something like this: of course the elections are falsified. Of course the whole process is rigged. Thus it has always been. The burden of proof, in these situations, is very nearly on the shoulders of the authorities to prove that the elections are not a complete sham. There's a facade of democracy, a veneer of competition, and then the chips fall just where the authorities planned. Most times, everywhere else in the former Soviet Union, people shrug it off. What can you do?

But as we've seen in Slovakia, Serbia, Georgia, and counting, some countries reach a point, gain enough momentum in the opposition, that they are organized and ready to oppose the status quo. That's why, after Georgia, so many countries banned independent domestic monitoring groups and tried to learn really quickly about parallel vote counting so that they could ban that too. When the emporer is shown to have no clothes, and someone's there to demand he account for it, that's when we have what we have today. There was absolute inevitability to the present situation—it is not remotely surprising. It was clear that the opposition was gearing up to demand a fair accounting for once, and they had a candidate who could actually garner enough support, and it was equally clear that the government could not let that happen, and would rig to high heaven. (Go back a few months and check out the debate in Ukraine's parliament - there very nearly wasn't a presidential election at all, when it became clear how popular Yuschenko was becoming.) So that's the basic scenario, and that's why we're cheering for Yuschenko. He's not all that great in and of himself, but it represents a fundamental break in the process and a demand for accountability that did not previously exist.


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