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With Cameras and Without. How Video Monitoring Influences Voter Turnout

Blog | David Kankiya
Coordinator of Golos Movement in the Krasnodar Region

How did installation of video cameras influence voter turnout numbers? We analyzed data from 18 regions that organized video monitoring of elections. 

Foreword

Election broadcasts and review of archived video recordings by the election monitors have already become a routine occurrence for the Russian elections. The government spends billions of rubles to equip the polling stations with cameras, while the volunteers dedicate hundreds and thousands of man hours to study the video recordings. There is now a whole sub-industry of Russian elections whose role is yet to be understood. 

Election organizers and election monitors set different tasks for themselves. The former need to improve the trust in the elections and to show the electoral system’s openness and integrity of the ballot. The latter seek to publicize the evidence of falsifications that happen during elections. After all, what can be a better proof of the vote’s falsehood than recordings of official broadcast from the polling station showing the members of election commission stuffing the ballot boxes? 

The regional election commissions are forced to follow the will of two bosses at once. On the one hand they have to fulfill the will of the Central Election Commission (organize the broadcast), and on the other – to bow to demands of the local administrations (to guarantee the necessary results). On the single voting day of September 9, 2018, each regional election commission managed these two tasks to the best of its creative abilities. 

Where the cameras were

Let’s see how the ballot stations in 22 regions that held gubernatorial elections were equipped with cameras. Is there any correlation between the cameras installed at the polling station and voter turnout? After all, the increased voter turnout is one of the indirect signs of the possible falsification. And it’s much more pleasurable to commit crimes when you are not being watched by the cameras. 

The cameras were installed at the polling stations of 18 out of 22 regions. Having said that, in the Voronezh Region, where the cameras were supposedly installed at 200 precinct election commissions, there was no broadcast on the election day, which means there were no adequate video records either. 

The situation when the broadcast is sabotaged, and the allocated budget funds are aimlessly wasted demands a separate investigation on the part of the regulatory agencies. 

For some reason, there were no cameras in the Kemerovo Region, where the volunteers discovered addition of 42,000 votes at 150 precinct election commissions after studying the video records of the presidential elections of March 18, and in the Orel and Ivanovo Regions as well. 

Out of 32,530 commissions that worked on September 9, 2018, during gubernatorial elections, the cameras were installed at 1/3 of all polling stations. However, the coverage differed dramatically depending on the region. 

Moscow boasts 3,600 cameras and the coverage of 95%. More than one third of all cameras installed for gubernatorial elections were used in Moscow. Having said that, the capital city has a well-developed community of election monitors, and there haven’t been any large-scale falsifications since 2012, which means that the broadcasts there are safe and favorable. 

At the same time, in Yakutia only 3% of all polling stations were equipped with cameras, in the Omsk and Samara Regions – only 11%, and in Khakassia – only 15%. 

Cameras and voter turnout

In the majority of the regions, one can see a significant divergence in voter turnout numbers between the polling stations equipped with cameras and those without. The greatest difference can be observed at Chukotka, where it equaled 22%, although this example isn’t very illustrative due to the overall small number of precinct election commissions in this region. In Novosibirsk, Amur, Altai and Krasnoyarsk Regions, where 35-45% of all commissions were equipped with cameras, the difference in voter turnout was between 15 and 21%. 

In the Pskov, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk and Samara Regions where the coverage equaled 9-18% of all the precinct election commissions, the difference in voter turnout was 11-13%. In Moscow, Vladimir, Magadan and Khabarovsk Regions as well as in the Republic of Khakassia, the divergence was less than 10%, while the coverage differed significantly: from 15 to 51%. 

A special mention goes to the Tyumen Region, where almost every fifth polling station was equipped with cameras, and the figures of voter turnout coincided for both types of the polling stations, as well as to the Republic of Yakutia where voter turnout at the polling stations equipped with cameras was 7% higher than at those without the cameras. However, in Yakutia the cameras were installed only at 20 out of 795 polling stations, or 3% of the total number, and therefore its numbers cannot be considered to be truly representative. 

Two principal approaches to the placement of cameras have been observed: the cameras were either installed more or less equally in all districts of the region, or they were mostly concentrated in specific locations, such as the regional centers, leading to significant disproportion. 

The first approach was utilized in the city of Moscow, and the Moscow, Altai, Amur, Vladimir, Magadan, Krasnoyarsk and Tyumen Regions and Primorye. 

The second approach was used at the Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Pskov, Samara and Khabarovsk Regions as well as Khakassia, Yakutia, and Chukotka. 

Now, let’s see how the cameras were distributed among the commissions inside the regions. We’ll do this with the help of diagrams. Let’s find those precinct election commissions where voter turnout greatly exceeds the average figures for the region. It is at those polling stations that the probability of discovering real divergence between the number of voters and the figures in the final protocol is especially high. 

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to present all 17 diagrams in this article, so we’ll choose several most interesting and illustrative regions. 

Novosibirsk Region

Altogether, there are 2,002 election commissions in the Novosibirsk Region. The voter turnout was 30% – only Krasnoyarsk Region had less. The cameras have been installed at 43% of the precinct election commissions: 866 polling stations had cameras, and 1,136 didn’t. The difference in voter turnout between the polling stations with cameras and those without is 21%, the only place with greater difference is Chukotka. 

The majority of cameras were installed at Novosibirsk proper where voter turnout was significantly lower than in the rest of the region. Altogether, there are 744 polling stations with voter turnout above 50%, and only 15 of them were equipped with cameras. 

Polling stations of special interest:Altai Region

There are 1,797 precinct election commissions in the Altai Region. Overall voter turnout was 37%. The cameras were installed at 741 polling stations for a coverage of 41%. The difference in voter turnout between polling stations with cameras and without was 15%. 


Precinct election

commission

Territorial

election commission

Number of voters

Voter

turnout

866

Ordynskaya

1,730

63%

915

Suzunskaya

1,023

61%

914

Suzunskaya

1,181

59%

931

Suzunskaya

1,110

58%

1014

Toguchinskaya

2,110

56%

1017

Toguchinskaya

1,853

56%

916

Suzunskaya

1,726

54%


Altai Region

There are 1,797 precinct election commissions in the Altai Region. Overall voter turnout was 37%. The cameras were installed at 741 polling stations for a coverage of 41%. The difference in voter turnout between polling stations with cameras and without was 15%. 

The majority of cameras were installed at Barnaul and Biysk. Voter turnout at 568 polling stations exceeded 50%. Only 34 commissions were equipped with cameras. 

Polling stations of special interest:

Precinct election commission

Territorial election commission

Number of voters

Voter turnout

1046

Kulundinskaya

1,401

75%

937

Klyuchevskaya

1,257

73%

1048

Kulundinskaya

1,192

72%

1605

Togulskaya

1,115

59%

1319

Petropavlovskaya

1,150

58%

841

Zmeinogorskaya

1,569

57%

1574

Talmenskaya

1,388

56%

1385

Rodinskaya

1,501

56%

1565

Talmenskaya

1,354

55%

1378

Rodinskaya

1,225

54%

13

Aleyskaya municipal

2,732

54%

602

Altayskaya

1,145

54%


Yakutia

The region with the smallest number of video cameras: just 3% or 20 out of 795 polling stations were equipped for the broadcast. It seems that they were confident at Yakutia that no one is watching them and the voter turnout numbers at the polling stations with cameras are the highest in all the country. All of the cameras were installed at Yakutsk. The voter turnout at those polling stations exceeded the average regional figure by 7%. It should be noted that Yakutia is second in terms of voter turnout among all the regions that had a broadcast from the polling stations. The video records from this republic seem to be very promising. 

Polling stations of special interest:

All of the cameras were installed at Yakutsk. The voter turnout at those polling stations exceeded the average regional figure by 7%. It should be noted that Yakutia is second in terms of voter turnout among all the regions that had a broadcast from the polling stations. The video records from this republic seem to be very promising. 

Polling stations of special interest:

Precinct election commission

Territorial election commission

Number of voters

Voter turnout

784

Yakutsk municipal

1,110

97%

706

Yakutsk municipal

1,603

88%

762

Yakutsk municipal

1,015

80%

728

Yakutsk municipal

1,689

73%

691

Yakutsk municipal

1,481

72%

772

Yakutsk municipal

1,686

66%

761

Yakutsk municipal

1,792

64%

791

Yakutsk municipal

1,503

63%

707

Yakutsk municipal

1,645

55%


Tyumen Region

The cameras were installed at 18% of the polling stations or 377 out of 2,023 precinct election commissions. Tyumen Region is the only one where the figures of voter turnout at the polling stations with cameras and without were the same, which is very interesting in itself. 

Altogether, voter turnout in the Tyumen Region exceeded 50% at 1,108 polling stations, 168 of which broadcasted the election. In this way, this region, just like Moscow Region, provides an interesting case study among all the gubernatorial campaigns. 

Polling stations of special interest:

Precinct election commission

Territorial election commission

Number of voters

Voter turnout

1902

Tyumen

1,205

94%

1505

Sladkovskaya

1,362

90%

506

Vagayskaya

1,038

90%

507

Vagayskaya

1,307

90%

803

Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region

2,010

85%

2718

Yalutorvskaya

1,413

85%

918

Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region

1,531

85%

606

Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region

1,639

83%

201

Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region

1,904

82%

714

Golyshmanovskaya

1,451

82%

1511

Sladkovskaya

1,729

82%

1804

Tobolsk municipal

1,598

81%

2717

Yalutorovskaya

1,160

81%

1510

Sladkovskaya

1,406

80%

505

Vagayskaya

1,096

78%

1830

Tobolsk municipal

1,616

77%

608

Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region

1,275

77%

2435

Uporovskaya

1,518

77%

2709

Yalutorovsk municipal

1,498

77%

2436

Uporovskaya

1,428

75%


Moscow Region

This is Russia’s second largest region by number of voters: 5,680,887 people. One of the leaders in terms of the number of election commissions: 4,255. Of those 51% of 2,179 precinct election commissions were equipped with cameras. The difference in voter turnout between the polling stations with cameras and those without them is just 5%, which indicates a relatively uniform distribution of cameras throughout the region. 

Moscow Region has the greatest number of election commissions potentially interesting to the election monitors. Out of 999 precinct election commissions with voter turnout in excess of 50%, 345 commissions had cameras installed. Having said that, Moscow Region is presently quite well studied by the election monitors. For example, they found an addition of 6,796 votes at all of Roshal’s eight polling stations and have caught ballot stuffing at Lyubertsy and Balashikha. In this way, the greater part of all the polling stations of interest has already been reviewed. The local election monitors are doing an excellent job and can serve as an example for the other volunteers. 

Omsk Region

Omsk Region can serve as a bad example of camera placement. Just like at Khakassia and Pskov Region, less than 20% of polling stations did a broadcast here, and all those stations were located at the regional capital. In the Omsk region, the cameras were installed at 11% of the polling stations or 200 out of 1,775 precinct election commissions. The difference in voter turnout was 13%.

We see that the Omsk Region is “divided” into two different parts: the city of Omsk with a very low turnout and the rest of the region where the figures are 1.5 times higher. Pro-government experts traditionally explain such bifurcation by saying that the level of electoral consciousness is higher in the villages where people are more willing to vote. Nonetheless, the analysis of instances of the “special electoral culture” disproves this thesis. The nature of divergence lies in the fact that in the cities with strong civil society the risk of being caught is much higher. This means that the necessary percentages are achieved with the help of falsifications in the countryside where there are no election monitors. 

There are no polling stations that might be potentially interesting to the election monitors in the Omsk Region. The voter turnout at the polling stations with cameras is between 24 and 42%. 

Conclusions

Overall, we see that in the majority of regions the cameras were installed at those polling stations where the voter turnout figures were below average. We believe that the reason for such distribution is that it’s necessary to conceal from the election monitors who are reviewing the videos the possible discrepancies and falsifications, and to hide the evidence of crime. 

Following this logic, the decision not to do the broadcast from the Kemerovo Region, the only classical electoral sultanate among all the regions that held gubernatorial elections on September 9, 2018, becomes clear. By sheer coincidence, voter turnout in the Kemerovo Region was the highest among all others. 

Despite all the ruses of the electoral system in the Moscow, Altay, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Samara and Tyumen Regions as well as Yakutia and Chukotka, we have enough video recordings from the polling stations that are waiting to be reviewed for many interesting findings.