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A Simple Solution for Ukraine

by Matthew Morse // Published February 27, 2009

On Wednesday, I attended an event that presented findings from a recent IFES survey in Ukraine. From a perspective of electoral reform, Ukraine is a fascinating example because its 2004/2005 Orange Revolution propelled a pro-democracy movement there, making it a darling of the international development community and recipient of massive amounts of aid. Despite its success in these arenas, Ukraine remains challenged to find its footing as an emerging democracy. This report, "Dissatisfaction & Disillusionment in Ukraine: Findings From an IFES 2008 Survey," proves this point in no uncertain terms.

For example, many Ukrainians feel strongly that voting does not give them influence over decision making in the country. In Oct. 2004, 47% of Ukrainians believed that voting gave them a chance to influence decision making in their country, but that number has steadily declined to only 18%, an all time low for this survey. (see chart below)

(Ukrainians responding to the statement "Voting gives people like me a chance to influence decision making in the country." IFES, "Dissatisfaction and Disillusionment in Ukraine: Findings from an IFES 2008 Survey," Oct. 2008 Under Grant from USAID, pg. 25.)

While Ukraine faces many problems, from corruption, to its constitution, political parties, and civic disillusionment, one problem stands out as easily remedied: voting administration reform. While many examples could be given, I'll focus here on one issue that we also face in the US: voter registration. Ukraine, like the United States, has a passive voter registration system. This means that voters must self select into registration, instead of being automatically registered like in many democracies. In the words of IFES Research Center Director Rakesh Sharma, this leads to general confusion and lack of information. Many Ukrainians don't know whether they are registered to vote so they don't show up at the polls, or some who are not registered become frustrated and ambivalent when they try to vote but are unable.

Obviously there is no silver bullet for solving Ukraine's problems, but automatic voter registration is a simple step that can be taken to address some problems with voter discontent. Like in the United States, there's no reason why an accurate, automatic voter registration system can be put in place. Indeed, FairVote has supported universal voter registration in the US for some time, and it believes that it's a simple solution to several complicated challenges in elections administration.