Golos Movement conducted citizen election observation of the campaign of the single voting day on September 8, 2019. Golos observers carried out long-term and short-term monitoring throughout all stages of the election campaign.
Election monitoring campaign was primarily focused on by-elections of the State Duma deputies in four regions of the Russian Federation, elections of the highest officials of the Russian Federation constituents in 16 regions, elections of regional legislative assemblies’ deputies in 13 regions, and municipal elections in 22 regional capitals including mayor elections at Anadyr, Novosibirsk and Ulan-Ude. On election day, short-term election observation took place in 39 regions.
Election observation was conducted with the purpose to verify the compliance with the standards of free elections and principles of equality. The analysis was based on the data received from the regions, from participants and organizers of the elections, from civil observers and voters, using various channels, including the 8-800-333-3350 hotline, Map of Violations, mass media and online reporting. Golos also operated its special information services SMS-HQ and SMS-CEC.
Altogether, throughout the campaign of Single Voting Day 2019, Golos Movement received 2,011 reports on possible violations, including 1,068 on election day. It has been reported that official complaints were filed in 451 instances.
The leading topics of reports were the issues of administrative resource abuse that included:
It should be noted that, as compared with the previous year, the number of reports on the impact of law enforcement agencies has grown by 9 times.
Among the reports on violations prior to election day, the leading causes of complaints were:
Here, attention should be called to the quadrupled number of reports on violations during voting by absentee ballot. Previously, the number of such violations went down dramatically in 2018, following a series of scandals with “absentee ballots” in 2017. This year, however, the problem has returned in a number of regions.
The leading topics of reports on election day were:
The number of reports on violations of the rights of observers, members of election commissions and media representatives on election day had quadrupled as compared with 2018. The number of reports on violations during “at home” voting has also quadrupled. The number of reports on unlawful campaigning, lotteries and bribing has doubled. If last year, voters and civic observers complained about manipulative use of lotteries and contests to replace political motivation for participating in elections with financial incentives, this year direct and harder violations such as bribing and campaigning on election day were reported.
The leading types of violations during vote count:
The “top ten” regions by number of reports
The election campaign for the Single Voting Day -2019 took place under conditions of unprecedented attack on the citizens’ electoral rights. The restriction of passive suffrage manifested itself in the fact that a significant number of prominent opposition politicians and active citizens were refused registration or removed from elections under contrived pretexts. For all intents and purposes, there has been a large-scale filtering out of the candidates who were capable of competing with representatives of the current government.
As a result, in many regions, large groups of voters were left without their candidates. Voters who were dissatisfied with the current authorities’ policies were given a very limited choice of candidates pre-approved with the administration and little-known persons instead of the candidates capable of actually competing with the establishment candidates. It was especially visible in the governor’s elections where notorious “municipal filter” once again played the role of the “fine-sieve filter” letting in only those candidates who are not able to provide any sort of noticeable competition to the current or acting governors. This is confirmed by the election results. Herewith, many strong and recognizable politicians were shut out of the election process. The campaign of 2019 once again confirmed that under no conditions can the “municipal filter” be considered a permissible procedure of democratic elections.
The elections of 2019 have also brought to the fore the problem of candidates’ registration based on the collection of voter signatures. Clearly biased and unequal approach to candidates in the process of reviewing the collected signatures, disdain for the actual will of specific voters and for the elementary logic, the dogmatism of “experts” and formalism of the courts in contesting results of reviews, and other clearly visible shortcomings of the “signature barrier” were openly used to prevent inconvenient candidates from running. This administrative technique of filtering out the candidates has been used for many years, but this year, its ostentatious and rough application provoked large-scaled protests and contributed to the consolidation of the protest electorate.
The remaining opposition candidates and parties had to run their election campaigns under political censorship in the federal and local media, artificial and for all intents and purposes violent reduction in the freedom of expression, whereas in a number of regions a practical ban on organization of any legal opposition public political events was introduced, while a number of the opposition leaders spent a lot of time in detention.
Even under such relatively favourable conditions for the establishment candidates, in many regions voters were subjected to unrelenting administrative pressure that coerced them to partake in the elections and vote for specific candidates. Unfortunately, this administrative pressure was also applied to the election commissions at different levels and some of them clearly acted in the interests of the establishment candidates.
In the context of the sharply ratcheted up political competition, election commissions of all levels not only failed to demonstrate political neutrality and impartiality prescribed to them by the law as well as the proper concern for the rights of voters, but, in fact, took one of the sides in the political conflict: from making completely absurd decisions at the stage of nomination and registration of candidates to blatantly ignoring legislative provisions and lawful demands of civic observers on the election day.
Overall, it can be stated that elections of 2019 took place in the context of the authorities’ struggle against real political pluralism and multi-party system, power politics against candidates and their followers, subordinate and biased nature of the election commissions’ activities, disdain for the law and order, and coercion of significant administratively controlled groups of voters to partake in elections.
We regret to acknowledge that the existing system of legal regulation of electoral procedures and the practice of law enforcement are not aimed at guaranteeing the citizens’ electoral rights (including the right to run for office and be elected), implementing the main principles of political diversity, openness and publicity, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, but at their restriction, primarily on the grounds of political loyalty. Electoral procedures are primarily aimed not at ascertaining the voters’ actual will but are used by the persons in power to preserve and reproduce “themselves” in the office.
On that basis, Golos Movement cannot consider the governors election campaigns as well as the elections of deputies in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan and Tyva, as the direct expression of the people’s will and as genuine, free and fair elections.
Violation of the collective leadership principle in the work of election commissions
Election day once again clearly demonstrated that the precinct and territorial election commissions do not always observe the principle of collective leadership. As a rule, the decisions are made unilaterally by the chairman and/or his deputies and are not discussed with all members of the commissions. The rights and lawful interests of non-voting members of the commissions are ignored. The lack of proper collective leadership in the work of the commissions promotes the binding of their leadership’s interests with either local administration or candidates, creating grounds for electoral corruption.
Pressure on civic observers and commission members
Existence of opportunities for actual citizen election observation is one of the main standards of democratic elections established both in Russian legislation and in the international documents signed by our country. Media representatives, civic observers and members of commissions assigned to them by candidates and parties perform a very important task by making sure that no votes are stolen. This is why any impediments to their activities can have a negative impact on the fairness of elections.
In several regions at once, there have been attempts to resist civic observation of voting process. In several cases, such attempts involved the use of force. The election commissions restricted movement around the polling station, prevented photo and video recording, refused to show commission’s documents. There were also traditional problems with access to polling stations as commissions’ chairmen often refused to admit the non-voting members of the commissions confusing them with civic observers whose visits had to be notified several days prior.
In the Chelyabinsk region, civic observers who came with mandates from one of the candidates for the governor were recalled from the ballot stations by the candidate himself several hours prior to the start of the vote count.
In addition, there have been active attempts to discredit civic observation itself, both on the eve of and during election day, propaganda campaign against civic observers was launched in the state and quasi-state media outlets. In Irkutsk, some unidentified people appeared wearing t-shirts with Golos Movement’s logo, claiming that they “bought the franchise.”
On election day, the information campaign to discredit the Map of the Violations project, that has been working for over eight years, was launched, seeking to put in doubt the reports coming from the regions.
In order to do that, the plotters sent more than 900 reports either taken from previous elections or invented them up. Moderators identified and deleted them. Nonetheless, about 30 reports taken from the archive of 2014 elections and changed to prevent the automatic instruments of Map of Violations control from educing coincidences were published. This brought immediate public accusations that Golos Movement is publishing reports from 2014. In addition to paid advertising in social media, even the chairwoman of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova was involved into this information campaign. We are convinced that those who delivered this information to the Central Election Commission were the very same plotters, who launched the fake messages campaign, since only they would know about these reports and would immediately refer to them after publication. Herewith, Map of Violations has become an integral part of the system of civic observation of elections in Russia, it is useful in identifying and preventing violations, and election commissions are quick to react to reports published there, and this was admitted yesterday by Ella Pamfilova herself.
All in all, one gets the impression that the policy of the Central Election Commission of Russia in recent years aimed at increasing the openness of the election commissions system and respectful collaboration with civic observers have been discarded by local agents as unimportant this year. It should be noted, however, that the possibility of civic observation is one of the basic international standards of democratic elections.
Administrative coercion and bribes
One of the key problems of Russian elections is administrative coercion of voters and violation of freedom of choice. According to Russian and international standards, no one has a right to force voters not just to vote for a specific candidate, but to take part in voting at all. Nonetheless, we began receiving information from the regions about coercion to partake in elections several days prior to September 8.
Reports about violation of ballot secrecy, delivery of voters to the ballot stations and control of their participation in voting, as well as about bribing, have been received from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Bashkortostan, Trans-Baikal, Primorsky and Irkutsk regions.
Free elections entail that voters express their will without any influence, violence, threat of violence or other unlawful pressure. Among other things, this concerns the decision whether to partake in the elections at all. According to paragraph 3, article 3 of the federal law “On the Principal Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Referenda of the Russian Federation Citizens,” nobody can coerce voters to take part in elections or refrain from doing so or to vote for specific candidates. This violation may incur liability under article 141 of the Russian Criminal Code.
The reports about coercion of students, employees and subordinates to partake in voting create a special sense of uneasiness. Most often, such reports came from the employees of state-funded organizations, government and large private companies.
Once again, this year several regions had problems with absentee ballot voting that entails opportunity to vote at the polling stations ahead of time.
“Cruises,” ballot box stuffing, bribes and unlawful campaigning
Although so far there are not many reports about recorded multiple voting and ballot stuffing, they may still appear after the volunteers review videos from the polling stations that broadcasted the process. Considering that several attempts of ballot stuffing were recorded in Kazan, and multiple “cruise” voting was observed even by Human Rights Ombudsman for St. Petersburg Alexander Shishlov, the appearance of new reports after reviewing the videos may be a quite realistic scenario.
Civic observers recorded many reports about voter bribing. Such reports came from Sakhalin, Altai, Primorsky krai, Irkutsk region, Perm region and others. There have been many reports about violations during “at-home” voting. Often, such violations are reported from the polling stations that use the touchscreen voting machines which minimize other opportunities to falsify voting results.
Legislative norm prohibiting campaigning on election day and on the eve turned out to be discredited. In a number of regions, unlawful campaigning on election day took place on a large scale, especially in Moscow and Irkutsk region. In the Republic of Altai, voters were called by a robot who, speaking in a voice reminiscent of Vladimir Putin, urged them to vote for United Russia candidates.
Suspension of remote e-voting for 2.5 hours
The system of remote e-voting in Moscow was down for a period of time. This was an experimental run of the system in three election districts. At 10 am, voters encountered a problem with the voting as the system would not provide e-ballots. Statistics on the system’s dashboard also would not update. Voting was suspended and after a problem with equipment was resolved, it continued at 12:30 pm.
The IT Department of the city of Moscow reported that this occurred because some equipment “burned down.” The said equipment, according to the cybersecurity requirements, uses government standard-encryption. The equipment was sold by the CryptoPro company. Having said that, there were no problems with this equipment during four preliminary trial runs.
The voters who were unable to vote because the system was down were notified about resumption of voting using different channels of communication. Of those who signed up for such voting option, the turnout was 92.3%. It was much higher voter turnout at regular polling stations that was equal to 21.69%, according to preliminary data. Altogether, 9,809 voters participated in e-voting, a significant enough number to influence voting results in these districts.
Violation of vote count procedures
Strict adherence to election day procedures should guarantee fair vote counting. These procedures are in full detail described in legislation, but it is no secret that some precinct election commissions do not follow them or follow only partially. Although violation of procedures does not directly attest to the distortion of expression of voters’ will, it serves as evidence of tolerance for such distortion. Therefore failure to follow these procedures when it is impossible to verify the absence of vote rigging may serve as grounds for annulling voting results at the precinct.
The most frequent were reports the order of vote counting established by law was violated or that the counting had begun with delays and its’ stages were managed simultaneously by different members of the election commission and not sequentially.
As a result, in a number of instances, vote counting was artificially delayed. This, in particular pertains to municipal elections in St. Petersburg where the counting was delayed most likely to rewrite the protocols. At Elista, as of 2am on September 9, not a single protocol of precinct election commissions was entered into the GAS “Vybory” (State Automated System of the Russian Federation “Election), while precinct election commission No 43, six hours after the polling station was closed, was still counting the ballots that were handed out in the course of the day in accordance with the voters’ list, this step being the very beginning of the counting procedure.
Failure to announce the election tally for everyone present – should be considered a significant violation. Additionally, monitoring of the counting procedure was complicated by the unlawful restriction of civic observers’ rights to move around polling station and to take photos/record videos during counting, and the data are not entered into expanded template of the final protocol on a rolling basis.
Despite the legal principle of election commissions’ collective work, the commissions often fail to hold the final meeting, shelving civic observers’ petitions and complaints, and foregoing the official approval of the voting results committed to the final protocol.
It should be noted that election commissions refuse to accept petitions and complaints from civic observers. This violates the right of observers and candidates to expedient and effective review of complaints regarding violation of the citizens’ electoral rights and freedoms, such review being one of the basic standards of fair elections established in the “Convention on Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in the CIS Countries” that was signed by Russia.
In some cases, violations were of the ostentatious nature, such as:
The procedural violations during the vote counting undermine trust in the elections. Reports to Golos Movement’s services attest to the chronic problems of the electoral legislation that regularly lead to conflicts at the polling stations. It should be noted that any attempts to settle these problems both by changes to the legislation and by the adoption of bylaws by the election commissions are met with strong resistance on the part of the lawmakers and election organizers.
We just want to mention some of these problems that are reflected in the feed “Timeline of the election day September 8, 2019” (TL; the numbers specify the time that the item was published in the feed) on Golos website, and were received via the hotline (HL; number of report is specified).