On May 25th, election day in Ukraine, I was with ten other election observers in the town of Romny, one of the oldest cities in Ukraine, founded in 902 A.D., and with a storied history under various rulers including Catherine the Great. Today the town and its surrounding environs have a population of about 50,000. The city is in Ukraine’s northeast, about 60 miles or so from the Russian border, north of the fighting further south in Donetsk and Luhansk. Yet the tension in the air was palpable as we readied the ballot boxes for the country’s first post-Maidan election. I was there to make sure the polls were run according to law, that ballot boxes were not tampered with, that the counts were honest and legitimate, and that the districts were operating according to law. Very often with hand counting, elections are manipulated. My team and I were sponsored by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe both who had vested interests in making sure a smooth transition occurred to a new and legitimate Ukrainian government.
We monitored various polling locations throughout the day –3 schools, a college, a hospital, a regional district office as well as 4 nearby village locations. What I noticed above all else were that the people were trying hard to be honest, to do everything correctly and not to have run offs. They were so tired of corruption and so happy we were there to approve or bring to attention any shortcomings.
I was heartened by this positivity. My day started with the opening of a voting location at an elementary school. Each transparent voting box was sealed tight. We filmed everything to have proof of what we had seen. All of this work was done in front of an election committee of usually 11 people (plus us monitors). Then the ballots were removed and placed on tables which would be approached by voters throughout the day.