Parliament’s Committee on Legislative Support to Law Enforcement Activities Recommends Adopting at First Reading Draft Law 8270 Aimed at Strengthening Sanctions for Election Violations
On February 6, 2019, the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Legislative Support of Law Enforcement Activities considered and recommended the Rada to pass in the first reading the Draft Law No 8270 aimed to strengthen the current system of sanctions for election-related offenses. The Committee also recommended the Rada to consider the bill during the upcoming plenary week under an expedited procedure.
The current system for penalizing election violations remains a significant weakness and vulnerability in Ukraine’s electoral legal framework. While the legislation clearly articulates what is permissible under law and what is not, in many cases there are no penalties in place to ensure effective enforcement of the respective provisions or sanctions for electoral violations. For example, the distribution of goods and services in relation to election campaigning is formally prohibited, but the law does not foresee any penalty for individuals who engage in such activity. Most criminal proceedings launched during previous elections have been closed even before it came to the court hearing and the number of actual convictions remains low. This has created a sense of impunity for election violations among the electoral contestants, citizens and offenders.
Draft Law No 8270 was submitted to the Rada by the Cabinet of Ministers on April 13, 2018. The Draft was designed to ensure effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions for electoral offenses and was prepared by Civil Network OPORA in close cooperation with a variety of stakeholders, including civil society representatives, the National Police, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Interior and the Central Election Commission.
Draft Law No 8270 proposes amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, the Criminal Code and the laws governing national and local elections by:
- Establishing criminal penalties for distributing goods and services to voters combined with election campaigning on behalf of a political party or candidate. Under the current law, this violation is sanctioned by a simple warning to a party or candidate;
- Establishing criminal sanctions for forging, destroying and stealing ballot papers, protocols, candidate nominations for election commissions, commission decisions and records, voter lists and documents produced by or submitted to election commissions;
- Administering criminal sanctions for election commissioners who fail to fulfill their duties without a compelling reason;
- Administering fines for disclosing how a person has voted; stealing or destroying a voter’s ballot paper; and restricting access to election commission sessions and campaign events;
- Increasing fines for election-related administrative offences;
- Preventing election commissioners and other officials who committed electoral crimes from being appointed to similar positions for up to five years (the current restriction is three years which allows potential offenders to be appointed to election commissions during the next electoral cycle);
- Lifting the criminal liability for vote buying and distribution of goods and services for persons who voluntarily inform on the electoral crime and contribute to its investigation.
If adopted into law, Draft Law No 8270 would be a first step towards addressing impunity for election-related offenses and improving the current, flawed enforcement system.
Even though Draft Law No 8270 could have a significant impact on prevention and combatting election violations during the forthcoming presidential election, it is not likely that the Rada will manage to pass it into law before March 31. The Draft needs to be adopted in the first reading by the Rada, and MPs will have 14 days to submit amendments to the bill. The Verkhovna Rada Committee on Legislative Support to Law Enforcement Activities will review each amendment proposed by MPs and may incorporate some of them into the text before the second reading. The bill needs to receive the votes of 226 MPs and the law must be signed by the President before it will take legal force. It is not likely that it will happen before March given the absence of deadlines for first and second hearings in the Rada’s Rules of Procedure. Realistically, if adopted, the law will take effect and apply to violations in the 2019 parliamentary and 2020 local elections, as well as in the next amalgamated community elections expected later in 2019.
The need for Draft Law No 8270 is highlighted in the 2017 IFES/OPORA Election Priority Paper. It is also considered a key election law reform priority by the Reanimation Package of Reforms. While strengthening the system of sanctions and liability is important, the overall success of combating electoral fraud and misbehavior strongly depends on the effective performance of the police, investigators, prosecutors and courts in terms of identifying, investigating and prosecuting the criminal and administrative election-related offences. IFES, in cooperation with other stakeholders, including OPORA Civil Network, Center for Political and Legal Reforms, National Police, the National School of Judges, the Central Election Commission, is working relentlessly on increasing the capacity of the law enforcement agencies and courts to effectively prosecute electoral offences. This work includes a series of IFES/OPORA regional training sessions for police officers and investigators prior to the 2019 presidential election, publication of a handbook on sanctions for election-related offences for judges, prosecutors and investigators (in cooperation with the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, the National School of Judges, and academia), training of judges of the administrative courts on election dispute resolution, and other programmatic activities.