Friday, June 01, 2007

So what ever happened at that Armenian election?

As everyone who didn't sleep through civics class (or who has worked on a political campaign) knows, an election doesn't end when the polling places close...

And as anyone involved in Washington state politics knows, an election doesn't even end when they've counted the votes - at least not after they've counted them the first time... or even the second... or even the third...

For international elections I've observed with the OSCE, the counting of the ballots and the reporting procedures were done by hand and the national election laws ususally have deadlines that reflect this.

In Armenia, the votes were supposed to be counted at the local polling places within ten hous of the polling places being closed - after which all the election materials and the completed election protocol (a "results sheet") are transfered to a Territorial Elections Center (which is the "stairwell-was-a-urinal" building where I was assigned on election night).

The "Boss" of the Territorial Election Commission on election night - with sealed bags containing ballots piled in the corner behind him.

The observations by OSCE volunteers in 108 polling places and 39 out of the 41 Territorial Elections Centers resulted in thousands of observation forms being filled out with an incredible amount of data - all of which is analyzed and processed into a Post-Election Report, the preliminary version of which is now online at

The "Boss" of the Territorial Election Commission on the phone with officials at the Centeral Election Commission:

"I can't believe what those idiots at the PEC did with this crap! They just threw it all into a box and brought it to us. The bags weren't sealed! Their protocol sheets were full of errors! The math doesn't add up! What am I supposed to do with this mess?

"OK, that's what we'll do - we'll put it all in a broom closet in the back room and take care of it later...."

In short - there were procedural problems observed during the election, which are summed up as follows:

Following the 12 May elections to the National Assembly and the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions by the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) on 13 May, the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission (EOM) continued to observe the vote tabulation, the announcement of results and the handling of complaints and appeals.

• During these last stages of the election process, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM observed certain inconsistencies with established regulations and departures from best electoral practice which do not contribute to strengthening public confidence in the election process.

• The vote count and tabulation were protracted but completed generally within legal deadlines. However, delay by the Central Election Commission (CEC) in posting tabulated results from the Yerevan constituencies on its website compromised transparency measures put in place for
these elections.

• Several Territorial Election Commissions (TECs) were observed ordering corrections to Precinct Election Commission (PEC) protocols, including adjustments to “initial data” (for example, number of voters according to the voter lists, number of ballots received), contrary to the Election Code.

• The OSCE/ODIHR EOM observed discrepancies, some of them significant, between certified polling station protocol copies and preliminary disaggregated results tabulated by TECs and submitted electronically mainly via a networked computer system. While such mistakes may not have been deliberate, they included numbers swapped between lines, incorrect calculations and discrepancies in initial data.

• Three of the nine CEC members refused to sign the protocol of the nationwide preliminary proportional contest results, citing reports of violations that called into question the accuracy of the results. They refused also to sign the final results protocol.

• Recounts of results were initially requested in twelve constituencies, and took place to completion in five. These were conducted in accordance with the law and revealed no major results discrepancies with the preliminary results.

• At least 20 complaints and appeals relating to election day were received and adjudicated by the CEC and TECs.

• The president and the prime minister have stated that criminal responsibility for electoral violations is to be pursued. Some criminal cases have been initiated related to falsification of results, bribery and fraud involving the voter list. The OSCE/ODIHR welcomes these steps and emphasizes the importance of the thorough and impartial investigation of all alleged irregularities.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Images From afar

I've finally returned to Seattle, and although I haven't made as many posts as I would like to I do know that what you're really missing are my photos, so here they are:

Armenian Interior Decor

Armenain Architecture - The building where I worked all night in the third-floor election center - no working bathrooms, and the unlit stairwell smelled like it doubled as a urinal...

Armenian Food

Armenian Cheese

Armenain Trout

Armenian Traffic

The Armenian Republican Party

And, Finally - FLORENCE as seen from my "room with a view"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Breaking Away

After getting caught up on my sleep and finding my way around town, I finally got around to renting a bike and hitting the roads.

"Florence by Bike" is quite a nice little shop near the heart of the city, with a retail shop on one side of the street where you can buy anything that's bicycle + Italian, and the workshop across the street rents almost anything you'd want to ride - from scooters to city bikes to mountainbikes to full-Campy racing bikes.

Once Massimo set me up on a Bianchi, I was ready to go - maneuvering through the city traffic was like racing a criterium on cobblestones, keeping pace with Vespas and Fiats and SmartCars - the best workout I've had in a long time...

Once out of the city I followed the roadsigns into the Tuscan countryside, and I have to tell ya: If there's anything more fun than getting lost in a foreign country, it's getting lost in a foreign counrty on a bicycle...

Climbing hills up the wrong roads...

Accidentally entering the on-ramp to the Autostrada...

Wandering aimlessly until you end up at the end of the day in Sienna, exhausted and having to take the train back to Florence...

Not unlike "Smilin' Bob Cartwright" back home at Old Town Bicycle, doing an accidental Century out past Horseshoe Lake - just substitute vineyards and olive groves for pine trees, and a train ride home instead of a long solo slog up Bethel-Burley Road...

Plus, my post-workout rountine has an added dimension...

Returning to Florence, I've got an endless array of post-workout carbs to chose from!



Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Getting Caught Up....

I've finally found a spot in Florence where I can make a tentitave attempt to get caught up with news of my latest adventure...

Armenia was quite an experience - culturally, geographically and, of course, politically.

My accomidations were much better than I'd expected, so I'll attach a single photo for now to demonstrate the palacial setting in which we were housed...

The politics were, of course, equally inpressive.

Here's a shot of the local Republican party logo, which is something their counterpart in America might want to consider...

Of course, it wasn't all politics. While doing recon of the polling places we'd be observing on election day, my teammate Robin Soderberg and I got to explore some of the few local sights that remain after the massive 1988 earthquake that killed more than 25,000 people in this area.

One of the more interesting spots we explored was an ancient monistary, built when Armenia was the first nation to officially adopt Christianity back in the 3-4th Century.

I'll save the election-day photos for another entry, since they require some explaination and I'm sure most of my readers are far more interested in the fun things like sight-seeing, food and drink, bicycling, and - of course - the art of Florence...

For now, I'll leave you all with an image from my "Room with a View."

Ciao Bella!


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Assignment: Gyumri

I’ve gotten word that my assignment in Armenia will involve observing political campaign and election activities in the city of Gyumri, in the northwest corner of Armenia near the border with Turkey.

Ever curious, I’ve done some homework about where I’ll be spending some time.

The city of Gyumri has about 120,000 voters. As is common for many cities of the former Soviet Union, it has been know by a variety of names which reflect the politics of the times. It was briefly known as Kumayri at the end of the Cold War, before that Leninakan, and before that Alexandropol.

Perhaps it’s most conspicuous “modern” feature are the large cemeteries, some full of the victims of the 1988 earthquake that killed nearly 25,000 people. Despite many well-intentioned efforts, the economy of the city remains a shambles ten years after the event. There is still a substantial international presence from various assistance projects. The past few years have seen noticeable progress in housing, as well as business, infrastructural and beautification efforts.

As Armenia's largest old town, much of it showing earthquake damage, Gyumri provides the opportunity for very interesting walks. Gyumri's people had a great deal of pride in their city before the earthquake, which is today in large part replaced with despair at the lack of job opportunities.

The city is built on a north-south axis, with the center consisting of a main square that has a couple of pedestrians-only streets leading away from it, two large churches anchoring the two ends, and fountains in the center. It used to be the big partly covered shuka (market) which was leveled by the Soviet government (commie rat bastards...)

There are a variety of sites of historic and archeological interest in and around the city, including Iron Age, Bronze Age, Roman and Medieval settlements as well as the relatively more modern remnants of the Russian Alexandropol fortress that was constructed in 1834.

In fact, the city was site of a major Russian Army garrison and fortress since its conquest in 1804, a role it continues to play even today. The few thousand Russian troops still based in Armenia serve as a reminder that Russia would intervene militarily were Turkey to invade Armenia. Pending the unlikely event of an invasion, the Russian troops grow potatoes and find other ways to stay alive.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What Am I Doing Again?

For many of my friends, this is a refresher course – but for some of you, this is the first time that you’ve lived vicariously through someone going to a far-off land to volunteer as an elections observer.

Here’s some background:

Although I've always kept up on politics, I didn't really get involved until fairly recently - shortly after moving to Gig Harbor, Washington a few years ago. Having become active in local politics, I was asked to participate as an observer during the manual-recount of the votes during our very close governor's election here last year. For those of you not in Washington think "Florida - 2000" but without all those "chads" in a governor's election that separated the winner by 129 votes out of nearly three million...

During that episode, I met some people who said "If you think looking over a vote counter's shoulders is fun here, you should try it overseas!”

And, after some encouragement and on-line research, I applied to volunteer as a Short Term Observer (STO) with the OSCE.

The OSCE is the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe - which is a group of 55 countries including the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the former Soviet republics. It is involved in a huge variety of projects - from arms control to border management to conflict prevention. Their website is

One of their very important programs is to assist the participating member states in building democratic institutions. This is done by their Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is active throughout the OSCE area in the fields of election observation, democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and rule of law. They deploy volunteer elections observers to member states whenever those states request an OSCE presence to validate their elections as meeting international standards. Many Americans might be surprised that the OSCE-ODIHR deployed an Election Observation Mission to Ohio during the 2004 Presidential election (their final report on that election is less than encouraging).

OSCE missions are only deployed when there is a request by the host nation, and when there is a peaceful environment in which a democratic presence has been initially established. They are 100% safe.

Alright... 99% safe. It’s always advised to use bottled water, and whether you do or not it’s also a good idea to carry your own toilet paper. Election night on July 3, 2005 found me wandering the Albanian countryside at 2 a.m. with a flashlight in one hand and a roll of Charmin in the other...

So how did I end up on one of these "missions?"

To become a participant, I had to complete a very complicated application process with PAE-REACT, a corporation that recruits qualified individuals for placement in a database that is used by the State Department in selecting Americans to fill various OSCE positions.

I'll be participating as a STO on a typical ten-day mission to Armenia to watch them set up polling places, cast their ballots, and count the votes. To get some idea of what my trip may be like, visit the "Week in the Life of an Election Observer" webpage at by clicking on "Photo Gallery" and then use the drop-down menu to choose "A Week In the Life of an Election Observer."

On this particular mission, the United States is deploying about a dozen Americans as part of an international group of about 300 short-term observers to the May 12 parliamentary elections in Armenia. You can learn more about the OSCE involvement at

In 2005, I was one of 37 Americans to volunteer along with about 400 STOs from other nations in Albania for their Parliamentary election – details of which are below in the blog I originally started to chronicle that experience.

How can I afford to fly half-way around the world to do this?

Well, someone else is making all of the arrangements and paying for everything - all I have to do is the work! Each county covers the expenses of their volunteers, including their roundtrip airfare and providing them with a stipend to cover the costs of their accommodations, meals, in-country transportation and pay for their translator.

It may sound like a paid-vacation, but we’re actually roughing it. My outbound trip will last 22 hours, of which 17 hours will be in coach seats on three different flights across 11 time zones. Can you say “jet lag?”

And, once I get to my destination, I’ll be staying in the luxury of the best one-star accommodations to be found in all of Armenia...

But the people I’ll be meeting will offer great conversation on politics from all over the world, and I’ll be totally immersed in a week-long Armenian civics lesson. It’s a great adventure for a political geek like me, but it’s also a great opportunity to hopefully lay-over in Europe on my way back for a bit of vacation.

I’ve gotten much less notice for this mission than I did in 2005 – it’s less than a week to go, and my passport still hasn’t been sent back to me with my visa and airline tickets – so it looks like I’ll be cutting it close and adventuring with minimal time to plan ahead.

So – I’ll let you in on the specifics as soon as I know them...


Monday, April 30, 2007

Again? Yes - Again!

That's right!

Volunteering as an elections observer once wasn't enough - I'm going back for more!

For those of you new to my very intermittent postings, I started this blog so my friends and family could keep track of my travels in 2005 as a volunteer elections observer in Albania, which was followed by a visit to the Tour de France and a side trip to Turkey.

It was a fabulous experience, and I've been eager to go back on another mission with the OSCE. And, as luck would have it, I was offered an opportunity at just the right time - as my work with the Senate Democratic Caucus in Olympia was coming to an end and I was ready for a bit of a vacation.

So, get ready for another adventure!

But don't expect quite as much of an odyssey as my last mission - since the Senate Democratic Caucus made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and now I've got a job to come back to!

I'll be leaving for Yerevan, Armenia on in just six days - and I still don't have my itinerary, so I don't yet know where I'll be laying over on my way back - if at all (though I am crossing my fingers for a chance to see another great European bicycle race).

More to come!