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S2E19 – HTWM Global Edition: Moldova’s Center for Continuous Electoral Training

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 are back in Moldova – a small country nestled between Romania and Ukraine that was a part of the former Soviet Union – speaking with Dr. Doina Bordeianu and Pavel Cabacenco with the Center for Continuous Electoral Training, or CICDE. This is a partner organization of the country’s Central Election Commission that focuses on the continued education of election workers and the education of the next generation of voters in the country.

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:

Doina Bordeianu: Having civic education and electoral education in place. Our big goal is that people understand what we are doing here and understand their role in the society in the community and know how even to ask public institutions to be accountable for their actions.

[High Turnout Wide Margins Introduction]

Eric Fey: Hello everyone, it's Eric Fey, and you're listening to High Turnout Wide Margins, a podcast that explores local election administration. A few episodes ago you heard from the Central Election Commission of Moldova –

Brianna Lennon: – which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Eric Fey: Remember Moldova is a small country between Romania and Ukraine that was part of the former Soviet Union. Brianna and I traveled to Moldova this past summer and spoke with people involved at all levels of the Moldova and election system from local to nationwide.

Brianna Lennon: While the CEC organizes and manages all of the elections in the country, they have a partner organization called the Center for Continuous Electoral Training, or CICDE, that's responsible for continued education of election workers and the education of the next generation of voters in the country.

The Center is celebrating its 11th year and is one of the most unique organizations that we have seen because it is a national investment in civic education to make sure that students and the general public have a good understanding of how elections work and how they can participate in their democracy.

Eric Fey: In this episode, we're speaking with Dr. Doina Bordeianu, the director of CICDE and her peer, Pavel Cabacenco, who has been an advisor to CICDE over the years. We hope you enjoyed the episode.

[Music Transition]

Eric Fey: The first thing we always ask every guest on our podcast is how did you end up working in elections? So, whoever wants to start, tell us how you ended up working in elections.

Doina Bordeianu: For me, I'd say it was the second working experience just after graduating university. I was working for one year as a reporter in a news agency, and then I was working with the Central Electoral Commission writing news about their activity. I found out that they have some vacancies and I said, “Okay, I graduated public administration. Let's give it a try to this profession.” So, it was 15 years ago. Since then, I'm here – first at the Central Electoral Commission, and now at the Center for Continuous Electoral Training.

Pavel Cabacenco: Well, I started the same 15 years ago where it was like short adventure for me at the beginning. And so, I started with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems [IFES], which came back to Moldova in 2018. Sorry, 2018? No - 2008. Yeah, I'm already lost in time. Sorry. In 2008, IFES came to Moldova and with the new program. They were looking for local staff working again to help Center Election Commission in upcoming elections in 2009.

And initially, it was the one-year project. So, 2008 and 2009 had to be finished. The work that we've done and the support that was needed after 2009 made IFES stay longer in Moldova -almost for the next five years. This is how I got into this, well, we call it sometimes “disease.” If you start with elections, even for a short period of one year, then you say “Okay, maybe I stay longer.” Because it's always something new that you learn, something that is changing in the electoral code or electoral laws of the countries. Then maybe political or context changes. So, there is always something new some new, some dynamics and space to learn and improve things.

Eric Fey: I think Pavel what you said about you start in elections, and then it just kind of – we say in the United States, it kind of gets in your blood and you can't leave it.

Brianna Lennon: My deputy calls it a virus. Same thing.

Eric Fey: So, I think for most American election administrators, when we think of training, we think of training the poll workers. The people that work in the polling stations. Obviously, this center is much more than that. For an American audience, can you explain who are the people you are training? And in what ways are you training and for what purpose are you training them?

Doina Bordeianu: Of course, our main, main task is offering training in the electoral field for poll workers. In Moldova, there is a three-tier election administration. Just the Central Electoral Commission is a permanent body. The other ones at the district level and at the polling station level are temporary, created just before elections. So, we are providing training for them in the electoral period. It's an operational training. That usually takes several hours.

Besides this, we are training party representatives, per request, or observers, from NGOs, also per request. We are training auxiliary staff of the polling station. There are operators of the informational system elections, and also, we have this kind of IT staff at the level of district electoral commission that also have some modules in the informational system. We train them on how to use that modules.

Pavel Cabacenco: There are almost 14 categories of beneficiaries for the training center. It depends on the type of elections we organize. So, in the electoral period, it can be like 12,14, sometimes 15 categories of beneficiaries – including what Doina just mentioned. But yeah, judges, then police. So, there are quite a number of people in the organization that we train.

Of course, Moldova is a small country, so you can't compare it with the US or even one of the states. So, but for us, what the number of people whom we train is almost 35,000 for one electoral event.

It's quite a big number, especially taking into consideration the time constraints. Of course, you as election officials, know that time is working against us. We have a certain date, and only in COVID times we saw the examples when the elections were postponed, but mostly this is more an exception. So, we can't postpone an election and we have a strict calendar when certain activities should happen. Our election officials they should know how to do it. So, that is why we are working in a very condensed environment when we have to train a big number of people in a short period of time.


Doina Bordeianu: The district electoral commissions are created 50 days prior to Election Day, and then the polling electoral bureaus are created 25 days prior to election day. So, we are trying all the time to provide training in the first days of operations because in Moldova, the polling election bureaus they have a lot of functions to fulfill. There is related to the voters list, and they need to have this abilities and knowledge just before starting. But also, we are trying now to develop more and more topic related, let's say, training courses – such as integrity in elections, misuse of administrative resources or accessibility in elections. Such courses that would be interesting for a variety of electoral stakeholders, including the general public.

[Mid-episode Break]

Brianna Lennon: One of the questions we've been asking everyone really centers around public trust in elections, and voter confidence in elections. Is that part of the strategic plans that you try to implement in training? I guess the better question is, is increase of public confidence and voter trust part of the mission of some of this training.

Doina Bordeianu: I think this is more part of the CEC mission but having civic education and electoral education in place – our big goal is that people understand what we are doing here, and understand their role in the society, in the community, and know how to even ask a public institution to be accountable for their actions. So, even if it's not our main mandate, through our action, we are helping the state and electoral authority to achieve this goal

Pavel Cabacenco: But also everything that we do is about trust in elections. So, even if we do it in the right way, and there is no trust, then it's a problem, yeah? The results of the elections may not be accepted, if there is no confidence in election institutions, in the process. So, the trainings, they're contributing directly to this through the professionalism of the election officials. So, the more professional they are, the more trust is there.

Because especially polling station staff, they're on the front line, and people – our voters, they meet these people when they come to the polling station, and if they are professional, if they know how to do their work, if they provide transparency, they provide good services, they know how to actually organize elections. So, then it gives confidence of voters, but also other stakeholders like party agents, political parties, candidates, and then journalists. So, then the whole society understands it's a fair game and the fair results are we can accept it.

Eric Fey: Talk just a little bit more about that. So, about how many people are doing this training and who trains the trainers?

Pavel Cabacenco: Well we train the trainers. We just did one training two weeks – three weeks ago, training of trainers in Russian language.

Doina Bordeianu: Yeah. So, we have a permanent staff of nine persons. In the beginning we were seven people, but now we are nine people. Yeah, we're growing a bit our team and we have around 20 trainers involved for each election. So, in our database there are more than 20, but for one election we need around 20 persons extra, additional 20 persons.

We are providing them an initial training as training of trainers. Usually around four days of training, and then we have monthly continuous training for them on different topics – either it's related to some amendments to the legislation, or we are taking some specific operations that we want to go more in detail and to understand how it works or, as I said, we have this cross-cutting themes and topics as accessibility, integrity, and gender that we go more deep.

Because, of course, the trainer should be knowledgeable, first of all, and as you probably understood already training the polling station members is not just about the election day operations, it's much more because they are working 25 days prior to the election. So, there is a lot of staff to be trained.

Brianna Lennon: I had a question specifically about the training because I think another thing that US election officials are used to is just basic how the polling place works, how to use the machines and the ballots and things like that. But you mentioned you have accessibility portions, you have gender portions, what did those cover? Because we don't have those. We're told to incorporate them, but we’re trying to weigh – we need to teach them how to run the polling place. We want to teach them all this other stuff, but we run out of time, or they run out of capacity to learn because there’s just so much to learn.

Doina Bordeianu: Yeah, you're right. It's a challenge. We are incorporating the cross-cutting teams because voters are very diverse. You have in a locality, both man and woman, both old and young people, you have people with disabilities also, and you have to know how to communicate with them and how to offer electoral services, quality electoral services.

Of course, you can't cover the entire topic in the half hour allocated for this. But you can, for sure, point out some main principles of activity. Make them be aware, first of all, of the equipment that are available in a polling station for the person with disabilities. Have them understand that this equipment are useful also for parents with small children that are coming to the polling station or for elderly people that have difficulties in walking. So, they have to understand that it is more general. It doesn't address just the person with a visible disability or need.

About gender, in Moldovan election administration, there are more women than men. Still we have a difference in representation at a leading position. Meaning that even if an electoral body is 80% composed by women, for instance, they will elect a man as a chair. But anyway, the focus is more on how they interact with the voters and to be sensitive to their different needs.

Pavel Cabacenco: I also think that the answer here is in the name of the center. If we translate it in English, it's the Center for Continuous Electoral Training. So, the key word is continuous. So, yes, the Center is doing the training before elections for election officials who are temporary staff and so they hired just before elections, but there is still room for training in between the elections. And part of the poll workers we know where they are coming from. They are teachers, they are public election officials in the regions. So, this training is offered to them in between elections, including if we take the disability and inclusion of persons with disability.

So, the Center in collaboration with some civil society organization in the field, is doing the simulation for the public officials. We organize two polling stations, one accessible and other inaccessible, and then the potential or future election officials would try it themselves. Like being a person who is in a wheelchair, for example, or a blind person. They will try it and then would have a different approach and be better prepared for the information that we give them before elections, like more mentally, feel it even emotionally.

Eric Fey: Okay, so I think if there was another C to be added to the acronym, it could be comprehensive because the training sounds much more comprehensive than as Brianna said, most American election administrators are able to provide. One aspect of the comprehensive nature I find really interesting is the training or education you do with the judiciary judges, police officials, other emergency responders, political parties, or other NGOs.

I think almost every election administrator has found themselves post-election in a scenario where they're in front of a judge, because a candidate is challenging the results, or they want to recount. And I've been in court where most of the time in court is just me or one of my colleagues just explaining to the judge how elections work. Or me on the phone with some party observer on election day just explaining what they're seeing, because they don't understand what they're seeing.

Do you have any way of quantifying the effect of what you've done in this regard? This training with maybe nontraditional election actors? Because I hadn't thought of it till now, but that could be of great benefit to other election administrators to focus on these kinds of people.

Pavel Cabacenco: Yeah, definitely. It's very helpful. It's true not only for judges, but also for policemen coming to the polling stations and knowing what they have to do, what are their actual rights and responsibilities at the polling station. So, it's very helpful and leads to trust and confidence in the electoral process. That is why I think the Center is focusing on these categories of beneficiaries. Not direct, but still a very important one and developing a training program with them, together with them because the training for the judges, for the police, is conducted and developed, actually, in collaboration with the structures responsible for the training in their system. So, it's a joint thing and collaboration are starting at this level.

And, of course, it's important to have. About quantifying it, I think it's difficult to say. Probably the results of the elections, the quality of the reports of the international and local observers would be this mark, that is given for us as training providers.

Doina Bordeianu: Yeah, and if a request exists from the police, for instance, or from the National Institute of Justice for training judges. We can suppose that the training is useful and is relevant for them.

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.