The Democratic Director of Elections for St. Louis County, Eric Fey, is traveling to Russia this week as part of an intergovernmental group that will observe the presidential election March 18.
Fey is one of 420 short-term observers with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The OSCE, a group with 57 member nations, has observed elections since the early 1990s to help ensure free and fair elections.
Over the last decade, Fey has served as an observer in Ukraine, Belarus, Macedonia, Canada, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. He said having an international organization observe the electoral process keeps governments accountable.
“It’s important that the international community is there to be witness to what happens, and if the host country is willing to take their constructive criticism, whatever it may be, and improve that process, that’s obviously the goal,” he said, “but if they’re not, then somebody was still there and nobody can claim improper or fraudulent election was proper.”
Fey will be working even before election day. He and his team will be looking at several things including the media environment, candidate registration and how campaign legislation is enforced. On election day, they’ll watch the communication with election officials, the polling stations and the counting of ballots.
While the election in Russia is almost certain to result in the re-election of Vladimir Putin, Fey said it’s important that the process has integrity.
“You have to have professionals in place, election officials in place that take the job very seriously and want to always work to make the process better,” he said. “That’s what I see my role as an observer, and that’s how I see my role as an election official here.”
According to Fey, all of the information that is collected on election day is compiled and sent to the core team in Moscow. The morning following the election, the OSCE will release a preliminary statement to the public on their findings.
During his more-than-a-decade stint of observing elections in foreign countries, Fey said he’s seen everything from incidents of ballot-box stuffing to changing the number on the results.
“Because we were there, we also took down the results, and we were able to show that the results they actually turned in were not the results that they counted at the polling place,” he said.
Currently, there are no binding penalties or sanctions given by the OSCE to host countries that have been found to have compromised the integrity of their election results. However, it does set a precedent, Fey said.
“If the election is not up to OSCE standards and the country’s commitments, the government there and the candidates there cannot say that they held a completely free and fair election if the OSCE doesn’t judge it to be that way,” he said.
This is not the first election observation mission the OSCE has done in Russia. In a past parliament election, a report from the OSCE found that media coverage favored one party over the other, which it said affected the voters’ ability to make informed decisions at the polls.
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