A Day in the Life of …an Election Observe
With the election just days away, it seems all that anyone can talk about is the presidential debate. Millions of people will be tuning in, from across Ukraine and around the world with some international staff getting a closer look at the event at hand
With nearly 2 500 international observers accredited in the country from 18 governments and 18 international organisations, our own Lee Reaney is observing with the International Republican Institute, a US-based non-profit funded by USAID. His counterpart, Tereza Lewis, is an elections analyst from the US, and between the two of them we get a feel for what it’s like to observe an election in Ukraine.
6.00 – No rest for the weary! Lots to get done before breakfast, including checking the news (in several languages), browsing social media for political content, replying to emails, ensuring your counterpart hasn’t overslept, ironing clothes, and mentally preparing for the day ahead. Who are we meeting first?
Why it’s important. Knowing what is big in the news in the morning shows your interlocutors that you are up-to-date and paying attention. Election observation is a competitive business. Never hurts to get a leg up on the other missions. You want your interlocutors calling you first! Also, pressed shirts matter.
7.55 – Time for check-in. It’s imperative to let the core team know that you’ve made it through the night and that nothing major has happened in your ‘neck of the woods’.
Why it’s important. Miss this by even five minutes and you’ll make your Long-Term Observer Coordinator nervous. Don’t make your Long-Term Observer Coordinator nervous.
8.00 – Time for breakfast. This is a great time to read the articles you looked up earlier. Or any reports that were sent to you or statements from other observation groups. Or, to catch up on anything you missed if you slept in.
Why it’s important. It’s good for an observer to begin their day by observing. Plus, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
8.55 – Meet your counterpart. All observers have a partner. Usually from a different nation, gender, and age bracket. This means you have two ‘sets of eyes’ (and experiences) on any given situation. Make sure they are happy and healthy – it’s one of your most important roles as an LTO. No sense of humour? Start packing your bags.
Why it’s important. You’ll spend an awful lot of time with your counterpart, so a relationship that is at least serviceable is crucial. Repeat after me – it’s important to keep your counterpart happy. It’s important to keep your counterpart happy.
9.00 – Meet your team. All teams have a translator and a driver. They are literally your ears and mouths in the field, so best to keep them happy too. Make sure they are well-rested and have important tasks to do for the team. And value their opinions. They’ll often have a better sense of a situation than you.
Why it’s important. A strong team opens many doors and keep you safe – two vital tasks for any observation team.
9.30 – 12.30 – Meetings, meetings, meetings! The whole idea of observing an election is understanding what issues might arise and documenting what you see. No better way to understand a new region than to ask the locals. But for a full picture, you gotta ask a wide variety of interlocutors – political parties, election officials, domestic and other international observation groups, local media, police, non-profit groups, business and church leaders – really anyone that knows how things work. The wider the variety, the clearer the picture.
Why it’s important. It is difficult to observe something you don’t understand, so getting a clearer picture of the cultural, social, and political nuances is mandatory. Plus, if things get interesting on E-Day, you’ll want to know who to call for clarity. Or, if things really go south – for safety.
12.30 – 13.30 – Lunch! This is a good time to process what you’ve heard during the morning and plan your approach for the meetings ahead.
Why it’s important. Processing meetings as you go will help you when you write up your reports. Plus, the way to a better observation is through an observer’s stomach! And don’t skip the chocolate dessert you’ve been eyeing since your arrival.
13.30 – 15.00 – Meetings, meetings, meetings! Many observers will judge you by the number of meetings you have. While quality matters over quantity, hearing from a greater range of groups will only help you later.
Why it’s important. To get the clearest picture of the local election environment as possible. Plus, if you do it well, bragging rights over other observers…
15.00 – 15.30 – Coffee break. (Optional – you know, we are only human…)
Why it’s important. A fresh team is a happy team. Plus, quality restrooms!
15.30 – 18.00 – More meetings! See above. Ten is a good number, although not always possible depending on the amount of time you need to travel. Ten calls for a celebratory dinner!
Why it’s important. The more, the merrier. As they say.
18.00 – See the town. Now you get a chance to experience the place you are temporarily living in. Go shopping. Buy gifts. Pick up toothpaste. See a show. Have drinks with treasured interlocutors. You only have a few hours of downtime. Use them wisely.
Why it’s important. There is more to life than just elections. Valued friends can provide valuable information.
19.55. Check-in! Be sure to let your LTO Coordinator know that you’re still alive.
Why it’s important. Remember – do NOT make your Long-Term Observer Coordinator nervous. Also, being late means losing points with the core team. They’re observing us too!
20.00. Dinner & Reporting. It’s nice to sit down with your counterpart at the end of the day to go over notes. If you’re super productive (and the best observers always are), you’ll start putting your information into the various reports you’ll need to write. Use tables. Analysts love tables!
Why it’s important. The more you do daily, the less you’ll need to do when report-writing time comes. Reports are the bread-and-butter of election observing. The better the report, the more sought-after the observer.
21.00. W = time to wind-down. Read a book. Watch a show. Have a drink. Call a friend back home. Exercise – to make up for all the time sitting during the day. Whatever it is you need to do
to wind down and get your head on straight – do it. You have 10 more meetings tomorrow!
Why it’s important. All work and no play makes LTO a dull boy or girl.
23.00. Bedtime! Pillow. Sweet, precious pillow. Oh, how we missed ye.
Why it’s important. Every step listed above is far more difficult for a sleep-deprived LTO. Rest matters!
The E-Day schedule is slightly different. Most notably, replace all the ‘Meetings, meetings, meetings’ time slots with ‘PECs, PECs, and more PECs’. (PEC = Precinct Electoral Commission and is observer-speak for polling location)
PECs, PECs, and More PECs – On E-Day, your interlocutors will be busy doing their own things. You need to see how the process is working. You’ll have already worked out a route, so visit the PECs, see the atmosphere, ask your questions, and record, record, record!
Why it’s important. This is literally what you’re here for. All the pre-work you put in is for you to understand what’s going on around you today. Keep your eyes and ears open. This is what democracy is all about!
Closing a PEC – It’s all done. Everyone has voted. They’ve locked the doors. Now it’s time to count the votes. It’s been a long day, but this is the most critical part. Here you’ll want to be alert to see how the ballots are being moved, how the committee members are getting along with each other, and where the votes went. Democracy can be a long and tedious process.
Why it’s important. As candidates are looking for votes, the time when they are counted is among the most important of any election. Anywhere.
Observing a DEC (District Electoral Commission) – Your votes are counted, the protocols are signed, and the police are ready to escort the votes to the DEC. You need to follow to make sure the process goes smoothly. Same goes for the protocol submission process at the DEC. If you’ve done your job well, the DEC members will welcome you with open arms, wide smiles, and warm coffees.
Why it’s important. You’ll need to make sure that the numbers counted at your PEC are the same ones as the ones accepted at the DEC (and later at the CEC – Central Election Committee). Also, your report won’t be complete unless you have a full picture of the election process.
Final Thoughts – Observing can be exhilarating and tiring, fascinating and tedious, a wonderful learning experience and a trying lifestyle choice. Learn what you can, keep a smile on your face, keep an open mind, and wish the best for your host country!
Why it’s important. Foreign election observers are always invited by the host country and are usually warmly welcomed – especially in Ukraine. The international community relies on the observations of the different missions to get a better understanding of how the democratic process is working. Your role may be small, but with numbers – your observations can go a long way.
Happy E-Day everyone!