Two regions of eastern Ukraine voted on Sunday to have more independence in a referendum that appears likely to worsen the already volatile situation there. The interim government in Kiev, the United States, and several European countries called the referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk a sham, and they were so thoroughly chaotic that it’s unclear what exactly people were voting for. The lone question on the ballot was worded, “Do you support the act of state self-rule of the Donetsk People’s Republic?” (There was a similar question in Luhansk.) Some said a “yes” vote meant greater autonomy within Ukraine, and others interpreted it as a call for independence or joining Russia. Whatever it means, on Sunday night, separatists in Donetsk announced that 89 percent of voters cast their ballot in favor of “self rule.”
Supposedly, nearly 75 percent of the 3.32 million eligible voters had cast ballots, but those numbers are dubious. While turnout appeared to be high, it’s possible that people had to wait on long lines to vote because there weren’t enough polling stations. Many opponents of the separatist movement said they didn’t plan to to vote, but a Pew Research Center poll this month found 70 percent of people in the eastern region want to remain a part of Ukraine.
There were no international electoral observers, and according to reporters it was obvious that voting was essentially unregulated. Anyone with a passport could vote, and some people brought several passports and filled out ballots on their relatives’ behalf. The ballots, which were photocopied with no markings to prevent tampering, were placed in cardboard boxes, and counted by staffers who were pro-separatist activists.
A Donestsk electoral official, Mikhail Samolenko, told The Wall Street Journal that it didn’t matter that there was nothing to prevent people from voting several times “because everyone is voting yes.” Under those conditions, it’s a bit shocking that separatists only won with 89 percent of the vote.