Colorado Secretary of State staffer observes Ukraine elections

The scene in Kiev. (Bouey photo)
Maidan Square in central Kiev, site of the Euromaidan revolution in 2014. The placards to the right are memorials to protesters who were killed in the square. (Steve Bouey photo)

By Keara Brosnan

Colorado’s Secretary of State’s campaign finance manager Steve Bouey traveled across the world to witness Ukraine’s first local elections in five years.

Previously, political parties appointed local officials.

“Ukraine is obviously an interesting place,” Bouey said. “The whole eastern half of the country is under rebel control and they want to secede and join Russia and Crimea. There’s a lot going on politically.”

Bouey was selected to be a part of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe.  Bouey, a seasoned traveler who has worked for the Secretary of State’s office for more than six years, toured the country in October as part of his OSCE mission.

Stephen Bouey, with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, and his translator, Vlad, during Ukraine's local elections in October. (Bouey photo)
Steve Bouey, right, who is with Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, and his translator, Vlad, during Ukraine’s local elections in October. (Bouey photo)

With the ongoing civil war in Ukraine, the Euromaidan 2014 revolution, the recent annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass, traveling to Ukraine might seem  dangerous.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is Ukraine, it’s a dangerous place, there’s an ongoing civil war,’” Bouey said, “But I didn’t feel any danger or threat to my safety… I was in Afghanistan back in June and that was obviously a dodgy place, but I felt safe in Ukraine.”

Over the summer, Bouey worked with Mountain2Mountain doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

As part of ensuring the democratic integrity of the first local elections, Bouey and his elections observation partner were responsible for traveling to 12 different polling stations in rural Ukraine and recording their evaluations on the given forms. They were instructed to look for things such as voter fraud, ballot box stuffing, voter intimidation and otherwise unethical voting practices that challenge the integrity of a democratic voting system. They were also warned to be on the lookout for Molotov cocktails, bribery and roving thugs known to beat up voters marking ballots for an opposing candidate.

Ukraine voting. (Bouey photo)
Voters in Ukraine mark ballots in secrecy behind the curtains, then drop them in transparent ballot boxes, where they will be counted and recorded by hand. (Bouey photo)

“We filled out half a dozen incident reports — strange things happening, like one polling station closed down for lunch for two hours,” he said. “It was weird.”

While everything regarding the voting process in Ukraine was completed by hand, from the voting to the tabulation to the administration, Bouey and his partner were given digital pens to complete the observation forms and incident reports. So while the election poll workers took nine hours to count 120 ballots and fill out the proper paperwork, Bouey and his partner instantly had a digital record of their forms.

“We had this digital pen that that had a little camera on the end of it that was connected via Bluetooth to your phone,” Bouey said. “So then you would check the box at the end form it would send the information back to Kiev headquarters. So OSCE was getting all of these reports in real time and not only would they have the form but it would go into a spreadsheet.”

The trip lasted 10 days. Bouey had to jump right back into his work at the Secretary of State’s Office upon his return just two days before the Nov. 3 election.

Bouey said that the trip was well worth it and he cannot wait to go back to the Ukraine on personal business.

“It scratches a couple of different itches,” he said.

“It ties in really well,  not just professionally with what I do for the Secretary of State’s Office,  but personally in terms of culture, travel, meeting new people, learning new languages, being exposed to new customs, new food and making new friends in new countries.”

Stephen Bouey, who works for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, traveled to the Ukraine in October to observe the local election. He posed in one of the country's rural bus stops. (Bouey photo)
Steve Bouey, who works for the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, traveled to Ukraine in October to observe local elections. He posed in one of the country’s rural bus stops. (Bouey photo)

Keara Brosnan is a University of Denver student interning with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.