SJC’s Dr. Rob Pfaff Returns from Election Observation in Ukraine

June 10, 2014

SJC Chair of Chemistry and Director of the Office of Institutional Research Dr. Robert Pfaff, along with his wife, Dr. Kathy Parkison, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Professor of Economics at Indiana University Kokomo and a Fulbright Scholar to the country of Georgia in 2005, traveled to Ukraine to serve as monitors in the nation's historic May 25 election. 

The observation was through the US State Department as part of our country’s treaty obligations to the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The treaty calls for all 57 member states to be subject to election observation and to provide observers for elections in other member states. 

Prior to an election, ODIHR sets up a “mission” in the country holding the election to perform political analysis and to assess campaign practices, as well as provide ongoing security analyses and organize the volunteer observers being deployed for the election.

“Becoming involved in the democratization of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, noting that these are predominantly former Soviet states, is a logical continuation of the thinking of the Core Program,” said Pfaff. “I think it’s also relevant that I am a chemist getting involved in this, not a historian or a political scientist. This is way outside my professional box, but it’s important to support these countries as they fight against their histories of elections only having Party-approved candidates on the ballot and official corruption not just being widespread, but expected.”

Pfaff first got involved in elections in Jasper County, Ind. as a precinct election judge and has served in that capacity in all but one election the past eight years.

Pfaff said his motivation for observing international elections comes from his wife. During her Fulbright in Tbilisi, Georgia, she was invited by a team of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) workers to join them on an election observation mission to Azerbaijan, which borders Georgia to the east. She loved it and signed up with the State Department soon after returning home.

“I envied her adventures and signed up myself in 2009,” said Pfaff. “My first deployment was to observe parliamentary elections in Georgia in 2010 and, since I was familiar with the country and its people, it was a perfect place to get my feet wet.”

Pfaff and his wife flew into Kiev on Tuesday, May 20 for briefings. The two were deployed in the western part of the country, Pfaff to Ivanko-Frankivsk oblast, Parkison to Khmelnytsky oblast.

Pfaff was partnered with a Polish woman who works at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The day before the election, the pair toured the area and mapped a course, which consisted of 10-12 precincts. On election day, the two traveled to their first precinct, where 12 members of the Precinct Election Commission (PEC) were present. Ukraine uses paper ballots; several PEC members checked IDs and had voters sign the voter lists. Voting booths featured blue and yellow cloths to provide privacy, and the ballot boxes were stationed in front of the Ukrainian Orthodox shrine.

The precincts came in all shapes and sizes. Pfaff’s favorite was located in a new village, where an administration building was brought in by truck, placed on stone and concrete supports, and used as a polling station. Pfaff estimated the building could not have been larger than 12’ x 25.’

When the voting closed, the PEC locked the doors and started counting, beginning with the number of voters who signed the lists, the number of unused ballots, and the number of spoiled ballots. To ensure the spoiled ballots remained unused, the lower right corner was cut off of them. The ballot boxes were opened one at a time and the ballots dumped on the table. A commissioner held each ballot up for scrutiny and announced the candidate who was voted for before stacking it by candidate. With 18 candidates, the ballot was very long.

Once the counting of the ballots was completed, the balloting materials were loaded into a small car for the trip to the district election commission to be turned in. After many hours of processing, checking for errors, and results submission, the election ended with a majority winner, ensuring there would not be a runoff election.

“Everything I saw went smoothly and transparently,” said Pfaff. “The Ukrainian people expressed to me their desire to move forward, to have peace and good relations with both Russia and Europe, and to have a government without corruption. I think they took a good first step.”

Named a "character-building college" by the Templeton Foundation, a "Best Midwestern College" by the Princeton Review, and “Best Value” and "Best Midwestern College" by US News & World Report, Saint Joseph's College is a four-year, Catholic college offering 27 majors, 4 group majors, 35 minors, and 9 pre-professional programs, complemented by the nationally acclaimed Core Program. Founded and sponsored by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, SJC is located in Rensselaer, Indiana, approximately 90 minutes from both Chicago and Indianapolis, on a park-like campus of 180 acres and has an enrollment of nearly 1,200 students.

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