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UMW professor monitors elections in hot spots

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When Ukrainians headed to the polls in the spring, University of Mary Washington professor Nabil Al-Tikriti went with them.

Al-Tikriti, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the Fredericksburg college, serves as an election monitor for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The revolution in Ukraine began in 2013 as an internal political crisis and grew when the president was ousted, and Russia invaded and annexed Crimea earlier in 2014.

Since then, violence has escalated with some pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian troops positioned along the border of the countries.

The presidential elections, which Al-Tikriti attended, resulted in Ukrainian businessman and politician Petro Poroshenko being elected.

The election was originally scheduled for March 29, but the date was changed following the revolution.

Poroshenko won the elections with 54.7 percent of the vote.

Al-Tikriti served as a monitor for the Ukrainian national elections from May 19 to 29.

He was one of about 90 Americans joining the OSCE delegation of 900 monitors from around the world.

Al-Tikriti began monitoring elections in 1997 through the Peace Corps. Since then he has attended 11 elections, in countries including Georgia, Kyrgystan, Belarus and Bosnia.

He had been to Ukraine once before to monitor an election a decade ago, and he said a lot has changed in the country since his last visit.

In Lviv, the city in Ukraine where Al-Tikriti worked, there wasn’t any of the tension that has been covered by international media in the eastern portion of the country.

He said the voters had felt stressed because they felt they were determining the nation’s future.

“They felt the elections were about the survival of the country,” he said. “It was very emotional.”

When the polls closed on the final day, he said the Ukraine’s equivalent of the national anthem was played and voters cried.

From what he saw, the election went well, though that might not have been the case in other areas of the country.

During the election, Al-Trikriti and his monitor partner, who was from Canada, spent all day at the polls talking to managers and observing the scene.

They visited more than a dozen polling stations in a district bordering Poland to view voting and ballot counting.

They also talked to voters and filled out questions for the monitoring agency such as “Is anyone stuffing the ballot box?” and “Are there police present in the polling station?”

He said the speedy end to this year’s election, which ended after one round, was the best possible outcome to prevent more violence.

Elections in the United States could use similar procedures to be more transparent, he said.

 After watching elections nearly a dozen times, he said voting in eastern Europe and central Asia are more transparent than those in the U.S.

A big part of that, in Al-Tikriti’s mind is the automation of the voting system.

Going back to paper ballots, he said, would be a step back into transparency.

Al-Tikriti said the experience helps him in the classroom.

During the spring semester at UMW, he held a talk on the crisis in Ukraine, which was informed by his last visit 10 years ago. These trips help round out his view of countries he doesn’t have particular expertise in.

He said he continues to aid elections overseas because the experience offers a different view of the country.

“You see elections at a district level and meet those people,” he said.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976