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Monday, February 22, 2010

Reflections on elections (1): Eat your ballot!

Democracy consumer Ivan Kundirenko (

Ivan Kundirenko was drunk on the morning on Election Day. It was February 7, and Ukrainians went to the polls for the second in three weeks to elect their next president. Hammered, Ivan walked into polling station #15 in Poltava around 9:00 AM, showed his ID and was given a ballot. Next, he asked the poll commissioners to fill out his ballot. They told him that would be against the law. He proceeded to enter the draped booth to make a fateful choice between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych*.

According to police report, he stayed inside the booth for a few minutes before emerging ballot in hand and headed straight for the exit. Commissioners stopped and asked Ivan to cast into the box. He responded with loud swearing, prompt crumpling and chewing of the ballot. He made instant headlines on the domestic wires like“Drunk man tries to eat ballot in Poltava.” The exact details were clarified in later reports that said Kundirenko in fact spit out his ballot after only a few chews.

Ukrainian election ballots, printed with graphic security and anti-counterfeit features of paper money, are protected by law. Not known for their taste, they are fire resistant, individually-numbered and printed on high grade paper. Ivan’s chewed-up ballot meant the election commission had to write him up in a report. He was handed over to police who charged him with the minor administrative offenses of hooliganism and being drunk in public.

The fifty-year old Ivan returned to the polling station later that afternoon having forgotten the morning incident. He came to vote.

“I was a little drunk,” Ivan explained. “I went to vote then forgot I did and came back again later. Everything’s alright now, I’ve sobered up. I wanted to say that I voted against both candidates. I like to drink, but you won’t find a Ukrainian who doesn’t.” The Feb. 7 Hazeta po-ukrainsky report did not say if Ivan enjoyed the taste of his zakuska.

Back in Kyiv, several underground activists found inspiration in Kundirenko’s feat. Yuri K., for example, reasoned that eating your ballot is the best way to register your protest vote because that way you know for sure that nobody will steal your vote. He discussed the idea of starting up an NGO that would encourage ballot eating in future elections.

“We will demand that the paper and ink [of the ballots] be edible and taste good. If not, we will provide our activists with sauces – ketchups, mayonnaises – to help the ballots go down better.”

He also started a collection at his local bar to kelp Kundirenko pay for his legal bills. Those funds were squandered by night’s end as they went to pay for the bar tab the activists ran up while plotting ways to make their society more civil.

* According to official results, Yanukovych beat Tymoshenko by 887,909 votes on Feb. 7, 2010.

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