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S2E17 – HTWM Global Edition: The Central Election Commission of Moldova at 25 years

In June, hosts Brianna Lennon and Eric Fey, along with Managing Editor Rebecca Smith, traveled to Central and Eastern Europe to learn more about election administration in democracies overseas.

In this episode, our hosts speak with Angelica Caraman, the current Chairperson of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Moldova – a small country nestled between Romania and Ukraine that was a part of the former Soviet Union. They spoke about how the CEC coordinates elections throughout Moldova, some of the unique challenges the organization faces, and some of the efforts they are currently undertaking to improve trust in elections and fight disinformation.

High Turnout, Wide Margins Credits:
Managing Editor: Rebecca Smith
Managing Producer: Aaron Hay
Associate Producers: Katie Quinn, Abigail Ruhman

Transcription of the episode is as follows:

Brianna Lennon: Hi, it's Brianna Lennon and you're listening to High Turnout wide margins and podcast that explores local election administration. Today, we're speaking with Angelica Caraman, the current Chairperson of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Moldova.

Eric Fey: Moldova, as you might remember from some of our previous episodes, is a relatively small country, about two and a half, three million people nestled in between Romania and Ukraine. It was a part of the former Soviet Union but has been independent since the early 90s.

And its Central Election Commission – that’s the organization that oversees and helps coordinate all elections in the country – just celebrated is 25th anniversary on the 24th of November. So, it’s a fitting time to hear this conversation.

Brianna Lennon: We're going to be hearing from the Chairwoman, but since she's mostly speaking Romanian in this episode, you'll also be hearing her through an interpreter Corneliu Pasat, the Director of Communications for the Commission.

[High Turnout Wide Margins Introduction]

Eric Fey: Madam Chair, thank you so much for meeting with us today. Meeting with two election officials that you don't know from the United States. We really appreciate that. And Brianna and I were just saying, this is the interview we had been most looking forward to in Moldova. So, we're so excited to be here, and the first question we always ask in our interviews , if you could, is explain to the listeners, how did you end up working in elections?

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: We also would like to welcome you at CDC premises. We'll be glad to discuss with you about the challenges, about the best novelties that we have in the electoral field here in the Republic of Moldova.

Speaking about how did I get into electoral field – I would say what electoral field was the one that has chosen me. It was a perfect combination between electoral administration and public administration. So, the first elections that I had been involved in organizing, like a representative of a state body, were in 1996. These were presidential elections. So, now I can already make comparison between how elections were in that time and today.

Brianna Lennon: So, can you talk a little bit about how it has changed.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: So back in 1996, I was representative of local public administration for a sector of Chișinău municipality. We had around 42 polling stations, and we were in charged to ensure all the logistics. Of course, we are preparing, first of all, the voting rolls, and we have to prepare them at the typing machine. And everything, everything was made with this typing machines, and, of course, it was challenging.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: So, the second thing is that in 1996, we had different laws for different types of elections. But in 1997, all these different laws have been combined into electoral code – one unique document that regulates all types of elections. Also, in 1997, the Electoral Code, as established by the Central Electoral Commission will be a permanent, independent body. So, now we have a Central Electoral Commission that has nine members – eight members are nominated by the Parliament respecting the proportionality between the majority and opposition, and one member is nominated by the President of Republic.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Today, our activities are governed also by the strategic plan was adopted in 2020 and is valid until 2023.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: But it's important to underline that I had the experience of having different positions in the electoral field. So, I have started in local public administration. I was also a member in a District Electoral Commission. I also had the position of a candidate in elections, and, of course, this helped me a lot to understand this electoral field from different perspectives, and now I can save that It's easy for me to understand which are the main issues challenges and where we have to make changes in order to improve this field.

Eric Fey: That's very interesting. Because in the United States, we don't have a Central Election Commission. We have nothing like it. All the elections are administered at a very local level, and I wonder, does the CEC work to train people from lower levels to have experience in this profession to work their way up?

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: So, you have touched a very important issue. So, right now, we're actually working on reforming electoral legislation, and one of our proposals is to have permanent electoral bodies at the district level in order to make them more professional and to have continuous staff because we are aware of the fact that the quality of electoral officials has a big impact on the quality of the whole process.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Of course we have some persons in every electoral management body of lower level – that are not permanent, but they're repeating. Usually, these persons are elected in management position. Is the Chair, Deputy Chair, and the Secretary of this electoral bodies. And actually, after each elections, we say that “okay, this is enough, these are our last elections.” But after, when we have a next elections, they accept, and they continue to work with us. And of course, this is our base in the territory, you know, in organizing elections.

Brianna Lennon: I am really interested in the strategic planning element, especially since this one would have been adopted during the pandemic, but also, and I'm asking because this is something we deal with – is trying to increase public trust in elections, trying to fight back against disinformation – are those parts of the current strategic plan that you're doing now?

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Yes, actually, our strategic plan, the main goal is to offer quality services to a citizen. Actually, we are a service provider. So, the main goal is to reach each voter by different communication means, but also to develop different technologies that will help them to - in a more transparent, but also accessible way – all the electoral procedures. And, of course, according to this plan, we are planning different information and education campaigns, but not only during the electoral period, but even between the electoral period. We're speaking already about civic education because the main goal is to ensure this credibility in electoral process, the credibility in the electoral management body, and to fight this disinformation and misinformation.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Of course, we're encouraging citizens, voters to get informed from sure and trustworthy sources. We have a specialized web page... In translation, that would be “vote.md” where they can find information, and, of course, we have our official webpage, www.cec.md, where they can easily find also different important information, information for voters, but also for our electoral stakeholders.

We prepare different key messages, and, for example, we had a campaign, a very interesting campaign that was called “Fighting the Myths” because in the society, in every society there are different myths related to elections. For example – related to have the voter rolls are prepared or how some infringements can happen in elections. So, we were giving different explanations on these myths in order to clarify the things,

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: For example, one of the myths that was in our society, was that pen could have an invisible ink, and after they have marked their ballot paper, it can disappear. But actually, according to our procedure, we do not vote with pens, but we have specialized stamp with “voted” written on it.

Brianna Lennon: It sounds very similar to what we deal with it.

Eric Fey: It's amazing how similar these things are. We even had in the state of Arizona in 2020, they called it “SharpieGate.” It’s a type of ink pen of sorts, a marker. And there was this myth that marking the ballot with the Sharpie would invalidate the ballot, and even the electoral officers said, “it is fine.” They even give sharpies to mark ballots. So, these myths, all election administrators battle myths like this.

[HTWM Mid-Episode Break] Hey, it's Eric Fey, Director of Elections in St. Louis County, Missouri, and this is the Moldova edition of High Turnout Wide Margins. In this episode, we are speaking with the head of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Moldova, Angela Carmen. You're hearing her through her interpreter, Corneliu Pasat.

Eric Fey: One of the challenges you mentioned earlier with the workers in the polling stations – that it can be difficult to get them to come back and work the next election. When we spoke with one of the members in Orhei, in the District Election Commission, we asked him, at the end, you know, “If you had unlimited money, what would you do?” And he said, “I don't need money, I need workers” because these young people are leaving, and it's difficult to find people to work the computerized system, and that's a major challenge.

And American election administrators have the exact same challenge finding enough qualified people to work in the polling station. So, I wonder if the CEC has devised any strategies to recruit more workers for polling stations.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Of course. First of all, I'd like to tell you that we have a state register of electoral officials where we register all the officials that have previously worked into elections, but also all the persons that have passed courses, training courses that are being organized by our training center, where we also introduce the operators. In every polling station, we have to have at least two operators, but they operate their computer and especially in rural regions, it's quite challenging to find specialists but will have enough capacities to perform this job.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: So, in the future it will be even more challenging because we want to give this job of these two operators to the poll workers, to the members of a precinct electoral bureaus in order to optimize the whole process. Well, the process will be faster and because right now, for example, each voter when they come into a polling station – they have to register at the operator. The system is interconnected among all the polling station. So, this system can help us to fight the multiple voting because the person is marked electronically – but afterwards, person has to continue at the board member in order to get registered and printed voter roll. So for the future, this will be faster, but we'll have to find not only members but with capacities to do also the job of operator.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: And Mrs. Chairperson was speaking about working with citizens in terms of different information campaigns, and we're encouraging them to participate in elections – not only as voters, but also with poll workers.

Eric Fey: My personal strategy for recruiting some poll workers is anytime a voter goes to the polling station, and they call me back and complain. They say, “This process, you know, wasn't working as well as I would like.” I then ask them back, “Would you like to be a poll worker in the next election,” and usually, they just hang up the phone at that point.

Brianna Lennon: I really liked how you characterized the CEC as a service provider. That's how I like to think about elections administration, too. We've heard from some other people that we've interviewed about the potential for more structural changes to things that would impact voters – like the potential for a second day of voting, instead of just one day. Is that something that you've given thought to?

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Yes, we come with several proposals for improving the legislation. First of all, the biggest issue actually with the participation of voters, is for voters from abroad because unfortunately, until now, we cannot ensure that all the voter that stay in the roll during the day will have a possibility to cast their vote. Even if we have increased the number, the maximum number of ballot papers what we issue to the polling stations open abroad – because in comparison, the polling stations open the inside the country where their maximum limit is 3,000 ballots. So, for polling stations abroad, it's 5,000. Well, actually this is the maximum capacity, but still, we have these challenges. So, we search now for new solutions.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: So, in order to optimize the voting procedure to make it faster. First of all, we're thinking that maybe the problem is not only in the number of polling stations that we're opening abroad, but also in the geography where they are situated. So, we propose to open the supplementary polling stations abroad, where we have at least 500 voters, but also to digitalize the process of preparing voters list for abroad because for abroad, we do not have permanent list like updated for each elections like inside the country. We have open voter rolls. So for the future, we would like to implement a procedure that will scan, actually, the ID, and afterwards, the voter will sign on a pad. So, in such a way everything will be easier and faster.

Also, its future plan to implement I-voting [internet or electronic voting]. Of course, at this stage, it's a concept, it's under discussions, it's under consultations. We have a created a group of different state bodies. So. during this week, we'll have presentation of a first concept. This is like a product of the work of this group.

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: And of course, besides ensuring the security of such kind of voting, the biggest issue will be the trust of people – how prepared they are in order to cast their vote by internet.

Brianna Lennon: Is, and this is more of a political landscape, I guess, question – but do you feel like election reform, these kinds of recommendations are a priority to get passed? Or do you think that it will be difficult to get some if not all of them passed or none of them passed through Parliament?

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Well, we're optimistic, and we think that we will have the needed support. We’ll have hard work to bring the needed argument and to promote the necessity to approve these changes, these amendments to the electoral law.

But besides this work with legislation with state budget, state body, we'll have to have a huge work with citizens, the voters to explain them why this is needed, to inform them about these new amendments, and I'm happy because during the last year we have diversified our messages, but also, we have diversified our target groups. Now we are going even to the kindergarten. Actually, this was one of the dreams of the Mrs. Chairperson to start the work, you know, right from the beginning because, of course, it's important to inform the voter and to motivate the voter to participate on election day. But it's more important, you know, to grow this voter.

Brianna Lennon: Is there anything that you want to share that we haven't asked

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Just one thing, because I think it is one of the major things that has been achieved by CEC, is to speak about the state information, automated system of elections. This is a system that has different modules, and the goal is to digitize the electoral process. We have, for example, the state register of voters. We have also the state register of poll workers that have been mentioned already. So, the financial control of political financing and the electoral campaign –

Angelica Caraman: Speaking in Moldovan/Romanian

Corneliu Pasat: Actually this will be one of the answers to a question that we usually get – “What does the CEC do when they do not have elections?”

Eric Fey: Well, that's one question you won't get from people like us, because we also received that question quite often. And we know how important that time is outside of Election Day in preparing for the next election.

I think my personal, main takeaway from my time here in Moldova is while the details are different, the challenges election administrators face are very similar, and this conversation has reminded me of that, and again, we appreciate your time today with us. Very much so.

Angelica Caraman: Mulțumesc. Thank you so much

Corneliu Pasat: Thank you also. Thank you very much. It's also being a pleasure to communicate with you, and it's very, it's great actually to know that somewhere over the ocean there are some people that are thinking about Moldova, and they have a pleasure to speak with us about elections.

Brianna Lennon: You've been listening to High Turnout Wide Margins, a podcast that explores local election administration. I'm your host, Brianna Lennon – alongside Eric Fey. Thanks to KBIA for making this podcast possible. Our Managing Editor is Rebecca Smith. Our Managing Producer is Aaron Hay, and our Associate Producers are Abigail Ruhman and Katie Quinn. This has been High Turnout Wide Margins. Thanks for listening.

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After serving as Assistant Attorney General in the Missouri attorney general's office and as Deputy Director of Elections in the Missouri secretary of state's office, Brianna Lennon made the decision to pursue election administration at the local level. She was elected county clerk in Boone, Missouri, in 2018, making her responsible for conducting elections for more than 120,000 registered voters.
Eric Fey is a lifelong resident of St. Louis County, Missouri, who fell in love with election administration as a teenage poll worker. He has worked in the field for a decade, and became director of elections in 2015. He’s on the executive board of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities, and has observed elections in twelve countries, including Ukraine, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.