Truman School Associate Professor Dr. Mary Stegmaier Traveling to Macedonia to Observe Referendum Process

TSPA Associate Professor Dr. Mary Stegmaier

Truman School Associate Professor Dr. Mary Stegmaier is keeping very busy with world travels these days.  After presenting her research at a conference in Prague over the summer, Dr. Stegmaier is now headed to Macedonia to serve as an election observer for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).  This is Dr. Stegmaier’s fifth election mission and her second time visiting Macedonia.

OSCE election observation missions include both long-term and short-term missions.  The long-term observers are present for about a month.  Short-term observers spend about a week engaging in various activities.  The short-term mission includes two days of training to help observers gain an understanding of the local political climate.  “As observers, we have briefings on the local media environment, election rules, campaign dynamics, political parties, ethnic and religious divisions and other topics that will help us engage knowledgeably with election officials and voters,” says Dr. Stegmaier.

The OSCE assigns observers to a region and once they arrive there, they receive additional briefings on the regional political dynamics from the long-term observers.  The day before the election, the observers locate the polling stations and go to the municipal election office to watch how local officials are handling ballots and other election materials.  Observers randomly select 10 polling stations to visit on Election Day.

On Election Day, observers visit polling stations and review items such as voter registration lists, ballots and ballot boxes.  During the election, observers will watch elements of the voting process such as voter identification, voter signature, etc.  Observers will also look for signs of voter intimidation such as groups of people gathered outside acting aggressively toward voters.  Observers document their findings on a questionnaire printed on special paper using a digital pen connected to a smart phone.  With this technology, the reports are transmitted to the OSCE immediately as they are recorded.  Observers continue watching the process through the closing of the polling places including the counting of ballots and their transport to the municipal election office – making for a very long day.

The OSCE compiles data from all observers and conducts statistical analysis to assess the overall election process and produces a report.  The purpose of the report is to provide a summary of the quality of the election and the adherence to the local election laws and international standards for democratic elections. Dr. Stegmaier explains that “ultimately, the OSCE report provides the people and their government recommendations for how the country can improve election administration in the future.”

On her upcoming trip, Dr. Stegmaier will be observing a referendum on changing the country’s name to The Republic of North Macedonia.  This change is a result of an agreement between Greece and Macedonia to address a controversy between the countries arising from when Macedonia was established in 1991 as one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia.  Greece is opposed to the use of the name Macedonia, as it is the name of Greece’s northern territory.  Greece has continued to veto Macedonia’s entrance into North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union over this issue.  Although passage of the referendum is not the last step in the process, it is considered a very important step to gauge public support for the name change.