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Presidential Council Member Tries to Raise Obstacles to Free 2018 Elections

On October 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with members of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. In violation of two decisions by the Council’s presidium, the report of the Council’s Monitoring Group on the results of September 10, 2017 elections was presented by Igor Borisov, who de facto imposed his own vision of the report’s points. Contrary to the Council’s human rights essence, Borisov’s presentation wasn’t aimed at developing civil society institutions and protecting human rights, but, on the contrary, he spoke in favor of restricting these rights and creating new barriers for election monitors. The way he voiced the problems and recommendations contained in the report, the principal threat to the elections are not the falsifiers and ineffective investigation of violations, but the citizens of Russia who monitor the elections and “take advantage of their rights.”

Having said that, Igor Borisov sees no “obstacles to organizing the March 2018 elections in accordance with requirements of the current legislation and international standards.” Nonetheless, we insist that suggestions and recommendations presented by Borisov provide just such obstacles. Moreover, his speech was a manipulation of public opinion, whereas Borisov embedded his personal assumptions that haven’t been reflected in the text of the consolidated report into its oral presentation. 

We, at the Golos Movement, decided to respond to the principal points of Igor Borisov’s address, and to explain why they are dangerous or mistaken.

The laws of math don’t work in Russia

Igor Borisov:

There are those, who want to impart the irrefutable positive tendencies with negative emotions or negative colours. They encourage this — and this is what I believe, it’s my position — from the fake commenters, who try to equate the election system with the principles of distribution of fallen apples. They are trying to use various mathematical methods to prove that the same distribution of voices should be registered at each voting precint. And they blame the electoral system when this doesn’t happen. 

And such graphs exist today, even though we tried to use this methodology in evaluating the US presidential elections. They also don’t have a normal distribution, but for some reason, nobody is engaged with this issue in the progressive system of technology that is the United States of America. We are however reproached for the fact that we don’t fit with some laws for distribution of fallen apples, and our “apples” fall all over. We believe that it’s impossible to describe the voters’ social behaviour with mathematical models. 

Golos Movement:

We believe that one of the key problems of Russia’s electoral system is administration of law, when the laws simply fail to work. The laws of statistics and mathematics are the pleasant exception to this rule. The existing mathematical and statistical investigations of election falsifications in Russia have been confirmed by our field work and monitoring and correlate with existing empirical data. Plus, it’s difficult to find a normal explanation for the situation when dozens of election commissions on a limited territory give the same official results to one of the candidates or parties, which coincide to the tenth of a percent, like it happened last year in Saratov and this year at Vladikavkaz.  

As for the feasibility of applying statistical methods to review the elections, we’d like to point out that research of electoral statistics is carried out all over the world (see, for example, the statistics of election campaigns in many countries, the analysis of Venezuelan elections, the statistics of voting violations, and much more). 

This is why we can confidently claim that apples fall similarly all over the world. 

We would also like to remind Igor Borisov that the long-time chairman of the Central Election Commission Vladimir Churov had no doubts about using statistics — he even co-authored an article on this subject. One can argue with approaches and conclusions of this article, but we cannot but welcome the very fact of taking the discussion of electoral statistics into the scientific sphere. We are confident that the analysis of the US elections that was done by Borisov is of clear scientific interest, and we’ll be happy to partake in its discussion once it is published. 

We also want to point out that the consolidated report does not contain the points and arguments voiced by the presenter, and therefore these statements should be taken as a personal position of Igor Borisov, and not the position of the whole Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Nonetheless, in presenting the report Borisov did not clarify this.

There are no violations of Russian citizens’ voting rights

Igor Borisov: 

Naturally, we don’t claim in our report that our electoral system is at the peak of its development. There are, naturally, certain procedural violations, and we note them as well. Nonetheless, we say that the procedural violations that were noted by our Council’s Monitoring Group did not influence the citizens’ ability to exercise their voting rights. In other words, we note no such direct facts [of influence].

Golos Movement:

With this statement, Igor Borisov deceived the audience and the President. Even the meagre set of facts that the Council decided to include in its report clearly demonstrates that the discovered violations did have an effect on the citizens’ ability to exercise their voting rights. The report, for example, cites the procedural violations in the Altai Region, where uncertified ballots were distributed for early voting, and this led to the annullment of all results of early voting at one of the ballot stations, which means that the votes of several dozens of people were simply not taken into account. Also in the Altai Region, the election results were later annulled at another three district election commissions. The report also contains information from Moscow, where opened envelopes for absentee ballots were discovered. The report’s authors also pointed out the de facto restrictions on the rights of election observers and members of election commissions. 

The images of Russian citizens shouldn’t end up abroad

Igor Borisov:

Emphasizing the need to introduce video broadcasts, we also note the necessity to regulate the use of video traffic that comes from the ballot stations. Right now, this flow of video is de facto unregulated. But according to part 3 article 17 of the Constitution, the exercise of citizen’s freedoms and rights should not violate the freedoms and rights of other persons. 

I made an inquiry to the relevant organizations: on September 10, 950,000 viewing sessions, almost a million, were initiated from foreign IP-addresses. Here’s a question: why were so many people watching our elections and doing video recordings of people’s images, and how will these video recordings be used in the future? Considering the technologies that exist today. Personally, I am worried that the images of my fellow citizens will end up in someone else’s hands, and that it’s unclear how they will be used and with what aims. 

Moreover, I even know of a case, although I have to stress that it’s just one case, when a voter refused to go to the ballot station because there are video cameras there. I’ll repeat that these are isolated cases, but nonetheless we can suppose that such challenges may exist for those who want to disrupt voter turnover. Such people can use the internet to circulate the appeal: if you don’t want to get your face on camera, don’t go to the ballot stations, because the cameras are rolling there. 

Golos Movement:

The reference to the need to “protect the images of citizens” in the places where elections — the country’s most important public event — take place, are not applicable and contradict the Russian legislation, in particular article 152.1 of Russia’s Civil Code. If we follow this logic, does it mean that TV broadcasts of all public events should be forbidden?

Restrictions on access to video broadcasts and recordings lead to decreased transparency in the work of election commissions as compared to the presidential elections of 2012, thus automatically raising questions regarding the causes of initiatives aimed against public monitoring, and degrades the trust in the institution of presidential elections as a whole. Additionally, such suggestions have a negative effect on the efficiency of oversight instruments that have been in operation in Russia for the last five years without any complaints from the citizens. It’s possible that such restrictions are lobbied by those who want to conceal violations and falsifications. The video recordings irritate and thwart the falsifiers who can be seen in the videos in the process of committing their crimes, because the videos help to establish their identity.

The stats, voiced by Igor Borisov, also sound suspicious. When he talks about 950,000 video-watching sessions from foreign IP-addresses, it’s difficult to know the number of unique visitors and their citizenship, because people in Russia may use VPN services, including browses with pre-installed VPN. It should also be taken into account that, according to the information of the Russian Foreign Ministry, which was announced by the deputy chairman of the Central Election Commission Nikolai Bulaev in October of 2017, “almost 2 mln Russian citizens have the right to vote abroad.” These people may also be interested in the Russian elections and watch the video broadcasts from the polling stations.

The public monitors’ right to information should be restricted

Igor Borisov:

There have been instances of abuse of privileges at the elections of September 10. The rights of election monitors are quite vague in Russia, but at the same time article 5.6 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Russian Federation demands that police takes measures to stop the restriction of such rights. 

For example, the election monitors have a right to see the list of voters, and it’s not specified how many times they may do that. I personally saw a poll watcher who would go up to the chairman of the election commission every 5 minutes to see the list of voters. The chairman would tell him: “Wait, I’m giving people an opportunity to vote,” and the election observer would say: “You had two people vote just now, let me count again, whether you marked two or three persons.” 

These are isolated instances, but they have to be clearly regulated by law. And then they call the police, demanding that this violation is stopped, effectively drawing the policemen into organization of election process.

Golos Movement: 

Speculations, communicated by Igor Borisov, are primarily directed at restricting the rights of election monitors to receive information. By citing such exaggerated example, which is untypical for Russian elections, he attempts to attack the observers’ basic rights. This is a typical manipulation, which was often used by officials under the previous Central Election Commission chairman Vladimir Churov, who de facto claimed that the only problem with elections are the observers who discover violations.

The consolidated report contains no such points and arguments, and therefore this should be seen as Borisov’s personal position, and not the position of the whole Council, however, Borisov failed to mention that.

It’s necessary to create “elite” monitoring and remove the last independent election observers from the ballot stations

Igor Borisov:  

Media representatives attempting to monitor the voting process also abuse their rights. For the elections of September 10, out of total number of 1,633 journalists, 1,015 were registered as representatives of one organization. So this is an abuse of the journalist rights, which is why we, in our report, believe that the issue with public representatives’ presence at the ballot stations should be resolved. We give recommendation that there should be representatives sent by the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation or by our Council. Because these are shady arrangements, and shady arrangements come to no good.

Golos Movement: 

The consolidated report contains no legal assessments of the activities of media outlets, which cover elections in the Russian Federation — this is Igor Borisov’s personal viewpoint, not the official stand of the Council. Once again, Borisov made no mention of that. 

Such attempts to restrict the activities of media outlets seem strange, especially since the specified number of journalists who covered the elections of September 10, is in no way sufficient. On the single election day, there were elections in 82 regions, organized by 39,659 election commissions. Almost 48 mln voters were put on the electoral rolls.

On top of that, when public monitoring becomes de facto impossible, it is the work of journalists that makes it possible to receive some kind of independent coverage of the Russian elections. Under the circumstances, it’s sad that such recommendations aren’t aimed at supporting the civil society, but seek to create elitist public monitoring on the part of territorial authorities. 

Submission of complaints and requests by voters should be made more complicated

Igor Borisov:  

As the system of receiving information from the citizens is expanding, we see another problem, associated with submission of anonymous complaints online. Today, both the Central Election Commission, and the regional election commissions allow for submission of electronic reports about breaches of law, but we know that there can be no rights without obligations. Thanks to such anonymous reports, to which others, including the human rights organizations, are reacting, we are sometimes drawn into empty inspections, when there’s nothing but suspicions.

We suggest an establishment of order for submission of electronic complaints via the GosUslugi (state services) website, where almost half of all population is already registered, to avoid the chance of receiving complaints that were written in bad faith. 

Golos Movement: 

Igor Borisov once again deceives the audience of his address. It’s impossible to submit anonymous complaints via online form of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation. Commission’s website specifies that the “requests filed online via the official internet portal of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation are processed and reviewed in accordance with the federal law from May 2, 2006 № 59-FZ “On Procedure for Consideration of Citizens’ Appeals.” Electronic appeals, submitted to the Central Election Commission with incomplete or inaccurate information, including information about sender, are not reviewed.”

As for the websites of the regional election commissions, they either have no forms for online submission of appeals, or the appeals require submission of personal data. In filing a complaint, any whistleblower has to specify his full name AND the address, to which the response will be sent. 

The suggestion to move the submission of e-complaints and e-appeals to the State Services website will significantly restrict the number of people, since Borisov himself pointed out that more than half of all voters aren’t registered there yet. Thus, this suggestion is aimed at restricting the options for protection of citizens’ voting rights.

In addition to this, the consolidated report contains no such points and arguments, and subsequently, this should be seen as Borisov’s personal viewpoint, and not the Council’s official stand. Once again, Borisov made no mention of that.

Election observers should be paid from the budget

Igor Borisov:   

There is a suggestion to include the activity of public election monitoring into the list of occupations of the socially-oriented NGOs. Because the issue is simple here: if the government doesn’t want to feed its election monitors, some other government will feed them. And such examples are well-known. 

Golos Movement: 

This suggestion seems contradictory. On the one hand, Borisov wants to bestow the status of public election observers to the Council, Civic Chambers and Ombudsmen only, excluding public associations from this list. On the other hand, he suggests giving a status of socially-oriented organizations to public associations, including the activity of carrying out election monitoring in the relevant list of occupations. One does not fit with the other.

That being said, article 31.1 of the federal law from January 12, 1995 №7-FZ “On non-commercial organizations” includes in the list of socially-oriented occupations the “activities to protect the rights and freedoms of people and citizens,” which can, without a doubt, be construed to include the election monitoring activities. Thus, this suggestion seems undeveloped and put together in a hurry. 

It’s necessary to resist intellectual fermentation

Igor Borisov: 

At this stage of Russia’s development, the business of utmost importance is for independent forces to appear in society, forces that would make a point of protecting the order and resisting unreasonable demands and anarchic intellectual fermentation. 

And these are not my words, they were said more than a hundred years ago by the one of the founding fathers of Russia’s constitutional law Boris Chicherin. It’s likely that the[se forces] will appear a hundred years later, and he said that on the eve of the revolutionary events, in the first decades of the 20th century, so it’s time to remember those words. 

Golos Movement:

Igor Borsiov concluded his speech with a quote from the Russian jurist Boris Chicherin. We’d like to offer a full text of Chicherin’s quote: 

“This appeasement of the passions and return of society to its internal workings may be done in two different ways. Either the firm hand of authority will suppress all unrestrained manifestations, consistently steering people towards the postulated goal, and - despite the noise and agitation - will force the society to move away from the empty outcries towards that, which is practically possible. Or the society itself will sober up, come to its senses, and finally comprehend its situation and the business at hand. The latter path is immeasurably better than the former. The forced guidance can never be as fruitful as self-directed thought. Coercion breeds irritation or indifference. Only thoughts that are born and mature inside the person himself give the man the will and composure necessary for rational actions. 

This is why, at this stage of Russia’s development, the business of utmost importance is for independent forces to appear in society, forces that would make a point of protecting the order and resisting unreasonable demands and anarchic intellectual fermentation. 

Only the rational and liberal conservatism’s energy can save the Russian society from its endless reeling. If such energy will appear beyond the government, in the people themselves, Russia can safely look to its future.”