Obserwatorium Wyborcze (The Election Observatory)

Obserwatorium Wyborcze (The Election Observatory)

Our objective: Obserwatorium Wyborcze (The Election Observatory) is a civic initiative formed in 2016 to observe elections and referendums in Poland. Our observation effort is comprehensive: in addition to the election or referendum properly speaking, we observe the campaign, the media, and the related paperwork and judicial proceedings (most notably, registration of candidates, gathering of signatures before a referendum, judicial disputes concerning the campaign and judicial challenges against the validity of the election).

We assess election-related legislation. We observe the process of defining districts (constituencies).

We are ready to play an active role whenever we observe serious anomalies related to an election or to a referendum (alert the public opinion; take legal action or assist others in taking legal action).

Our key objective is to observe the nationwide elections and referendums that are to be held in Poland in the near future: in October or November 2018, elections to all Polish local authorities and possibly a constitutional referendum; in May 2019, elections to the European Parliament; in October or November 2019, parliamentary elections (both houses). For each of these occasions, we plan to deploy a number of our own observers in the field, and act as a center of expertise, providing knowledge, methods and computing systems to other organizations that wish to participate in election observation and to political parties. We are now in the process of training trainers and coordinators who will help organize the election observation across Poland and will train observers. In March and April 2018, four two-day training sessions took place, more than 40 future trainers and coordinators were trained. We train both our own volunteers and those who plan to work for other organizations, including political parties.

Our activity so far: We have been active since March 2016. We have published ten reports so far (available in Polish at ow.org.pl). Five of them describe the findings of our observation of local elections and referendums. The remaining five concern election-related legislative proposals: three assess proposals that we judged detrimental to democracy, and that were finally abandoned due to public outcry. The last two concern changes to the Polish electoral code adopted in January 2018.

More than thirty volunteers were involved so far in our observation missions. We trained each volunteer as a media monitor and/or as an election day observer (10-hour trainings, distinct from the above-mentioned trainings for trainers and coordinators).

Several experts collaborate with us in the area of media monitoring. Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie (a high-profile Polish association of journalists) pledged to contribute the work of thirty professional journalists.

Our election observers and our radio and TV monitors report their findings internally by submitting electronic forms. The forms are very detailed (at least as much as those used by OSCE ODIHR for similar purposes). We are in the process of building similar forms for reporting on the observation of campaigns and on the monitoring of written media (so far, in these two areas we work in a less formal way).
For collecting forms, we use KoBo Toolbox (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative) – a form collecting software system appropriate for working in the field, in presence of less-than-perfect Internet connections (previously, we tested ELMO, a similar system from the Carter Centre; ELMO is much simpler to deploy than the KoBo Toolbox, but did not prove good enough for the large-scale operations that we plan).

The origin of The Election Observatory: The activity that later became known as The Election Observatory began in connection with the by-election to the Polish Senate on March 6, 2016, in the region surrounding Łomża and Suwałki, north-eastern Poland. The campaign of one candidate, Anna Maria Anders, was sponsored by public authorities. Activists connected with the opposition were harassed by police. Five persons who publicly protested against the campaign being state-sponsored – including Marcin Skubiszewski, now the coordinator of The Election Observatory – are being prosecuted by police for protesting, on request of the deputy minister of interior. The five persons were found not guilty twice, but the non-guilty judgments were quashed on appeal, and the judges who rendered these judgments now face disciplinary action (proceedings against three of the five persons are still in progress).

Why our activity is needed: Since the end of the communist dictatorial regime in Poland (1989), too little public attention was paid to electoral fraud and to defects of the electoral process. As a result, election observation, both domestic and international, is not well developed in Poland. Small-scale international observation missions visit Poland from time to time (including, so far, three missions from OSCE ODIHR), but there has been, until now, no full-scale missions (i.e., no missions staffed with hundreds of observers).
Domestic election observation has been, until now, either low quality or small scale. The only large-scale domestic observation initiative existing now is Ruch Kontroli Wyborów (RKW, Movement for the Control of Elections), connected with today’s ruling party (PiS). This initiative has a strong ideological and political bias, and does not follow commonly accepted standards of election observation (most notably: the RKW does not publish observation reports; it publishes incomplete notes, then jumps to conclusions based on facts that are not precisely described in any publicly available documents).

High quality election observation work has been done in Poland by several NGOs, including Instytut Spraw Publicznych, the Batory Foundation, the Stańczyk Foundation and Forum Młodych Dyplomatów (FMD, Young Diplomats’ Forum). Unfortunately, the work accomplished by these organizations does not include either large-scale election observation or the comprehensive observation of the complete electoral process. At its beginning, The Election Observatory received substantial assistance from the FMD. Now, The Election Observatory tries to go beyond what the latter organization accomplished so far.

What makes us believe that a very-large-scale domestic election observation action will happen in Poland in 2018: The fear of election fraud is widespread today in Poland, because many believe that the ruling majority is in the process of suppressing democracy. Thousands of people ready to commit their time to the defense of democracy are members of organizations that are willing to participate in election observation together with The Election Observatory; hundreds of thousands additional people participate in pro-democracy rallies and/or in Facebook groups, where they can be reached and recruited. The recruitment of election observers by several civil society organizations and political parties is already in progress on a large scale, and is yielding good results.

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