The seventh elections to the Moscow City Duma have entered the stage of the audit of voters’ signatures submitted by the candidates to the district election commissions. This stage is very important, because the commissions will decide on the candidates’ registration on the basis of this audit. The unique feature of Moscow City Duma elections is that the candidates are forced to collect an excessively high number of voter signatures – 3% of all voters registered in the election district. To collect about 5,000 signatures in summertime Moscow is a very complicated task that requires vast human and financial resources. The key element of the election campaign 2019 is that in addition to various political activists, representatives of “small parties” and other opposition politicians, the signatures have to be collected by many of the existing Moscow City Duma deputies, members of United Russia party and other candidates supported by the authorities who are nonetheless running as self-nominated candidates. In this context it is very important to make sure that the process of auditing voters’ signatures is done on equal footing, with all the openness and publicity possible.
However, a number of candidates and members of district election commissions have already published information about the problems with the audit process at the district election commissions on social media and in some news outlets. There have been reports about denial of access to the members of commissions, candidates and their representatives to certain stages of the signature sheets’ audit. In particular, the following facts have been reported:
One of the founding principles of the election commissions’ activities, established in item 5 article 3 and article 30 of the Federal law “On the Principal Guarantees of Electoral Rights…” is the requirement of openness and publicity, and this entails opportunity of ascertaining the correctness and lawfulness of all of election commission’s actions, especially the ones pertaining to the citizens’ electoral rights.
The control of the audit of signatures both in support of the candidates and their competitors should allow the public to ascertain that the audit is conducted fairly and that all candidates are on the level playing field. Golos Movement notes that at this stage the principles of openness and publicity as well as the rights of candidates and certain members of election commissions are being grossly violated.
We would also like to note the unlawful position of Moscow Election Commission presented in the letters of the Commission’s officials to the chairpersons of the district election commissions.
The letter of Moscow Election Commission’s secretary Vladimir Popov to the district election commissions contains an instruction to limit the rights of non-voting members of election commissions, which has already provoked several district election commissions to deny such members access to signature audit. In the meantime, non-voting members of election commissions have equal rights with the voting members of election commissions (item 23 article 29 of the Federal law “On the Principal Guarantees of Electoral Rights…”) without exception regarding their presence during the signature audit procedure.
The letter from the member of Moscow Election Commission Dmitry Reut effectively instructs the district election commissions to prevent the presence of candidates and their proxies during the audit of signature sheets using Vybory state automated system. Although this stage is seen as strictly technical, due to its lack of transparency it is fraught with substantial subjectivity that makes it possible to reject the signatures for some candidates while ignoring mistakes in the signature sheets of other candidates.
In connection with this, Golos Movement demands that the district election commissions observe the law:
The Golos Movement declares that as it is today, the signature-driven system of candidate registration for elections to the Moscow City Duma contradicts the main principles of free elections and enables the authorities to radically distort the voters’ will by denying access to elections to certain candidates. In view of inflated demands for the number of signatures, subjectivity and lack of transparency in the course of the audit procedures, the institute of signature collection has become an instrument of the administrative regulation of candidates’ access to participation, and therefore demands reform.
We especially want to stress that existing system of signature sheets’ audit enables the authorities to overstate the share of invalid signatures in the candidates’ signature sheets both by virtue of objective (inconsistencies in the voter registry and Interior Ministry’s database) and subjective (intentional mistakes of the auditors or different approach to auditing signatures for different candidates) factors. This leads to unlawful refusal to register certain candidates.
Because organization of the working groups’ activities and the already accomplished registrations of certain candidates demonstrate uneven approach and lack of impartiality in discovering actual violations in the signature sheets, under current conditions the Golos Movements believes that the only method of guaranteeing equality of candidates for the deputies of Moscow City Duma and inclusion of all the voters would be the registration of all candidates who submitted the required number of signatures (as it was done during presidential elections of 2018). Only such option will enable the observers to say that the final decision in the elections was left to the voters themselves and not to the members of working groups auditing the signatures.