Elections in Ukraine
Ukraine is a semi-presidential republic wherein the President is the head of the state but not the head of the Government, as the Cabinet of Ministers is led by the Prime Minister. The President is granted certain executive powers, including the right to suspend decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers; the right to issue orders that are not subject to the approval of the Prime Minister or the minister who takes responsibility for enforcement of the order (as is the case in a number of European states with a parliamentary form of government); as well as the right to appoint the heads of oblast and rayon state administrations, which implement Government policies at the regional and local levels.
The scope of powers of the President, Parliament and Cabinet of Ministers is framed in the 1996 Constitution with consecutive amendments. The first Constitution provided for a strong presidency with a broad scope of powers given to the executive, but in 2004 the Constitution was amended to strengthen the role of the Parliament and Cabinet of Ministers in drafting and implementing public policy. In 2010, the Constitutional Court deemed the 2004 constitutional amendments unconstitutional; however, in 2014, immediately after the Revolution of Dignity, the legislature reinstated the amendments introduced in 2004, thus limiting the scope of presidential powers and broadening the scope of powers of the Parliament and Government.
The 1996 Constitution (as amended) establishes the terms of offices of elected officials and bodies at both national and local levels; enshrines the principles of general, equal, direct suffrage and secrecy of the vote; sets the grounds for early termination of powers of the President and Parliament; and lists the grounds for limitation of active and passive electoral rights. It also outlines the procedure for appointment of members of the Central Election Commission.
The legal framework governing democratic representation is complex and involves not only the Constitution but also a patchwork of additional laws that govern different aspects of the electoral process:
Law on Parliamentary Elections (No. 4061-VI, dated November 17, 2011)
Law on Presidential Election (No. 474-XIV, dated March 5, 1999)
Law on Local Elections (No. 595-VIII, dated July 14, 2015)
Law on the Central Election Commission (No. 1932-IV, dated June 30, 2004).
Law on State Register of Voters (No. 698-V, dated February 22, 2007).
Law on Political Parties in Ukraine (No. 2365-III, dated April 5, 2001).
Law on Local Self-Governance in Ukraine (No. 280/97-BP, dated May 21, 1997).
Law on the Status of Local Councilors (No. 93-IV, dated July 11, 2002)
Code of Administrative Adjudication (No. 2747-IV, dated July 6, 2005)
Criminal Code of Ukraine (No. 2341-III, dated April 5, 2001).
Code of Administrative Offenses (No. 8073-X, dated December 7, 1984)
Elections in Ukraine are generally administered by a three-level election management system consisting of the Central Election Commission (CEC), 225 district election commissions (DECs) and approximately 30,000 precinct election commissions (PECs), each operating one polling station. The 2014 snap parliamentary elections were administered by 29,786 PECs, including 112 PECs abroad at diplomatic institutions, while the 2014 early presidential elections had 33,788 PECs.
The CEC has overall authority for planning, regulating and overseeing national elections. It is composed of 17 members, who are appointed by the Parliament based on the President’s proposals for a seven-year tenure each, with the possibility of re-election for new terms. Before suggesting the names of CEC members, the President is required to hold consultations with political party factions in the Parliament.
The extension of the CEC composition from 15 to 17 members was done in September 2018 in a swift legislative move that is currently being challenged in court for potentially violating the parliament’s Rules of Procedure. Irrespectively of the outcome of the court case, the appointment of the 14 new CEC commissioners who took office on 5 October will remain in force. With two commissioners carried over from the previous commission, the CEC currently has 16 members with one seat vacant. The parliamentary Speaker and the representative of the President in the Rada both made verbal commitments to fill the remaining seat with a candidate proposed by the Opposition Bloc, once a name is put forward.
The CEC Secretariat provides legal, informational and technical support to the CEC’s commissioners. While the Law on the Central Election Commission provides for the establishment of CEC Secretariat regional branches in each oblast, they have never been established.
DECs are responsible for organizing elections in their districts, including by creating PECs, registering official observers, distributing the ballot papers to the PECs, responding to complaints about violations of the electoral rules and tabulating the results from the PECs in their respective districts. In the parliamentary elections, DECs are comprised of 12-18 members based on the nominations of parties whose factions are registered in the legislature and parties whose candidate lists were registered in the elections. In the presidential election, DECs are comprised of at least 12 members (the maximum number of members is not restricted) based on the nominations of the presidential candidates. Finally, PECs, created prior to the respective elections, are responsible for preparations for Election Day and running polling stations on Election Day. They carry out voting, and then count the ballots in the polling station and send results protocols to the DECs. The number of PEC members depends on the number of voters assigned to the election precinct, ranging from 10 to 18 members.
In contrast to both presidential and parliamentary elections, the system of electoral administration for local elections is more complicated and, depending on the elections in question, might include a three- or four-tiered electoral administration. At the highest level, the local elections are administered by the CEC, whose powers in terms of preparations for the elections are limited. More directly responsible are the Territorial Election Commissions (TECs), which exist on every sub-national administrative level: oblast; rayon or city (those subordinate directly to oblasts); and village, settlement and city (those subordinate to rayons). PECs again represent the lowest level of electoral administration.
For the national elections, the territory of Ukraine is divided into 225 election districts. These districts are established for electoral management purposes to accelerate transmission of various documents between the polling stations and the CEC, to tabulate the election results and to elect single-member district candidates in the parliamentary elections. In the parliamentary elections, the districts are created with an approximately equal number of voters; under the law, the maximum deviation in the number of voters across the districts, if possible, should not exceed 12 percent of the average number of voters in all 225 districts. This average number of voters is established by dividing the total number of voters registered in the territory of Ukraine by 225. Due to ongoing conflict in the Ukraine’s East and Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, in 2014 parliamentary elections no elections were held in 27 single-mandate districts. Therefore, 27 seats in the Parliament remain vacant.
Voting technology: Votes are cast on paper ballots, counted by hand and tabulated manually. However, there are two electronic systems run by the CEC to facilitate elections.
The first system, Vybory Information System, is used by lower-level commissions in national and local elections to accelerate the transmission of various election-related data and automatize certain operations of the electoral administration. This system is used for drawing lotteries to select election commissioners and to transmit data from the vote counting and tabulation protocols, data on voter turnout and other similar data.
The second electronic system, the State Register of Voters (SRV), contains the election-related personal data of all registered voters in the country. The database is administered by the CEC, Regional Administrators, and, at the basic level of cities and rayons, by the 761 State Register of Voters Maintenance Bodies (RMBs). RMBs enter and update data on the voters in the database, produce voter lists for the national and local elections based on the SRV, update the voter lists, and deliver them to the polling stations to be further used on Election Day. For entering and updating data on the voters in the SRV database, the RMBs use information provided by voters themselves, as well as by other government agencies that deal with personal data, including the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defense, tax authorities and other bodies. Since 2010, the overall quality of the SRV database has improved significantly, and cases of voters missing on the voter list on Election Day have been falling.
Electoral access: In Ukraine, voters with disabilities can cast their ballots either in person at the polling stations to which they are assigned, or at their places of stay (so-called homebound voting). The system of homebound voting gives bedridden persons and persons who for other reasons are not capable to come to the polling station a chance to vote; however, it is relied upon too heavily and has the adverse effect of stigmatizing voters with disabilities who should be given reasonable accommodation to vote alongside their fellow citizens on an equal basis.
If a voter has a permanent disability affecting his/her ability to move, he/she can apply to the respective State Register of Voters Maintenance Body to be included on the excerpt from the voter list listing all the voters who vote at the places of their stay. A voter can also refuse homebound voting and vote at the polling station, if he/she applies in writing to the respective PEC no later than by 12:00 p.m. on the last Saturday before Election Day. If a voter has temporary mobility issues, he/she can apply in writing to the PEC to be included on the excerpt from the voter list. A written application, accompanied by a medical certificate, must be submitted to the PEC no later than by 8:00 p.m. on the last Friday before Election Day.
If a voter with disabilities votes at the polling station, he/she is entitled to fill out the ballot paper and put it in the ballot box with the assistance of another person, who cannot be an election commissioner, candidate, observer, candidate’s proxy or party’s authorized representative in the respective election district. This is to exclude that the same person assists multiple voters requiring assistance. If a voter chooses to use such assistance he/she must notify the chair or another member of the PEC.
The Parliamentary Election Law states that the CEC must deliver two Braille templates per polling station for voters with visual disabilities; however, those templates have never been issued.
Election Day monitoring has repeatedly revealed that many election precincts are not equipped properly to ensure convenient voting for voters with disabilities. In some cases, voting premises are located on the second or even third floor, thus hindering access of persons with limited mobility, which can include persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, etc.
*Information retrieved from IFES Ukraine (https://www.ifes.org/ukraine)