Erik woke up around 5:00 a.m. on Sunday to get ready for election observation. Over the past few days, he traveled to various polling sites, stopping in and checking on preparations for the elections. He planned to visit 10-12 sites on election day, finishing up the vote count at a precinct near the apartment.
[A disclaimer: Erik only observed a few precincts in the center of L'viv for about 1 hour each. His observations and conclusions do not constitute an assessment of the overall quality of the election, just a snapshot of a few precincts in one part of Ukraine.]
Overall, the entire day of observation went smoothly. Most of the commissions were professional and prepared, and they handled issues quickly and within the parameters of the law. The worst precincts were less organized, but not chaotic. Here are some examples of more serious problems:
1) In one precinct, a defaced portrait of Yuliya Tymoshenko was hanging on the entryway. When Erik asked the director about it, she quickly removed it and seemed embarrassed that he found it. It is likely that the commission did not know about the image, especially since one of the officers represented Tymoshenko's party.
2) In one precinct, an intoxicated voter gave his ballot to a young woman in a booth, saying loudly "vote for whomever you want!" The commission should have heard it (Erik was sitting near them and he heard it) and intervened, but they did not.
3) During the vote count, the commission had a heated dispute about how to handle some questionably marked ballots. Both sides of the debate had reasonable points; the losing side was unhappy and loudly argued that the decision violated the rights of voters.
The overnight vote count was long and deliberate. The precinct chairman was methodical and responsible, following the law very closely. But, his unwillingness to cut corners made the night last long and caused tensions to rise on the committee (which wanted to count the ballots and go home. Plus, some observers received phone calls from their comrades who were already home by 3:00 a.m.). In fact, Erik finally left the precinct around 6:30 a.m. before everything was completed. He wanted to get his data to Kyiv to be included in the final report about the election.
Erik had nice, long chats with several observers - one for Tymoshenko who lived for a while in the US as a traveling salesman; one for the Communists who extolled the virtues of the USSR and denied any of its faults; and one for Svoboda who was a young, recent convert to the Ukrainian national cause. But, fatigue precludes a more detailed account of these encounters.
The exit polls and preliminary results are split at the moment. Exit polls predict that the Party of Regions will have the most votes, followed by Tymoshenko, Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense, the Communist Party, and the Lytvyn Bloc. With nearly 60% counted, the official results have Tymoshenko in first, followed by Regions, OU-PS, CPU, Lytvyn, and the Socialists narrowly scraping by. Tymoshenko has already held a triumphant news conference; Yanukovych has held a more subdued one with a claim of victory. It is likely that the announcement of the results will mark the beginning of more drama.