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Golos Movement: E-Voting Problems May Distort the Voters’ Will

Declaration of the plans to organize e-voting during elections of the Moscow City Duma deputies on September 8, 2019

The draft law submitted to the State Duma envisions organization of the e-voting experiment in September of this year during elections to the Moscow City Duma. 

The Golos Movement for Protection of Voters’ Rights regards introduction of hardware and software for voting and vote count as a promising trend in development of electoral procedures. Essentially, it helps to provide the voters’ with additional opportunities to take part in the elections, simplifies the work of election organizers and improves the process of vote count. Innovations may improve the electoral process, but, on the other hand, they may also bring new risks and, consequently, new demands for the guarantee of electoral rights. Nonetheless, introduction of new technical means in the elections of government bodies cannot be done unsystematically and in haste. 

We would like to express our deep concern for the haste that accompanies the attempts to introduce the system of e-voting in the elections of Moscow City Duma deputies without a serious legal elaboration, extensive public discussion and the system’s preliminary testing under control of all the concerned political forces, public watchdogs and the media. 

Introduction of new methods of e-voting into the electoral process is only warranted in the presence of high degree of trust in the electoral system on the part of the society. In Russia, this requires eradication of the current bad practices of interfering in the electoral process. Today, e-voting carries little credibility, and its hasty introduction in the elections to the Moscow City Duma may engender distrust in the voting results and have a negative effect on the legitimacy of elected deputies. We fear that Moscow’s experiment is an accelerated preparation for its introduction in the federal elections without sufficient elaboration. 

There is a number of unresolved problems of e-voting that clearly won’t be eliminated prior to the elections on September 8, 2019, because they demand both the technological solutions and the achievement of a certain compromise in resolving the contradiction between the secrecy of ballot and the ability to verify the integrity of voting, between transparency and security. 

The problems of voter coercion and controlled voting that we encounter in many of the country’s regions in the course of elections and that cannot be counteracted effectively are particularly acute in the process of e-voting. The possibilities for vote-buying are also expanded. In 2018, the repeat elections of Primorye Region’s governor have shown that election organizers may influence results of election that were obtained with technical means. The platform and software for e-voting have to be independent of political forces and bodies of authority, should be installed at the resources of election commissions and be fully controlled by them. 

Additionally, we believe that elections to the Moscow City Duma will be unsuitable for such an experiment. In particular, if the experiment will be conducted in one or several single mandate election districts, as it is currently planned, it will create a situation when the voters at different single mandate districts will be given different rights and opportunities (for example, only in those districts the election outcomes will be influenced by the voters outside of the district’s boundaries), and that will violate the principle of electoral rights’ equality. 

Different rights and opportunities will also be given to the candidates nominated in the different single mandate districts in the course of the same elections. Introduction of e-voting may impose additional costs and expenses of working with “online voters” on the candidates running in those districts. This may provoke lawsuits to restore the principle of equality of voters’ and candidates’ rights violated by the introduced system of e-voting. 

The problems of e-voting may be reflected in election results and thus distort the voters’ common will. 

The Golos Movement believes that in 2019 the Russian society is neither morally nor legally ready to experiment with e-voting. We believe that it would be useful to begin the discussion on the possibility of conducting such experiment either in 2020 or at a later date. To organize such an experiment, it would be necessary to develop in leisurely fashion such statutory regulations that would enable the control over voting procedures and vote count on the part of the election participants and all the interested public institutions. The experiment should encompass all of the voters and the whole territory where elections or referendum are organized. 

It should be kept in mind that in other countries e-voting is used very rarely and that some countries are foregoing it completely. In those countries where e-voting is utilized, such as Switzerland, the process is subject to intense public scrutiny (there is a public testing of the e-voting system, open to experts from around the world, and offering large compensation to those who are able to manipulate the votes, retrieve the ballot data, violate secrecy of ballot, disrupt or circumvent the safety systems designed to protect the voters). International know-how, including Recommendation №CM/Rec(2017)5 and the Guidelines on e-voting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe should be taken into account in developing the e-voting procedure. 

The Golos Movement recommends introduction of e-voting in the elections to the bodies of authority only after the system undergoes open testing with the involvement of experts and there is an expert consensus that guarantees the achievement of principles of the Russian elections and possibility of public oversight.