Long before the voting, Golos started receiving numerous messages from people whom employers forced to vote. First messages came from various regions as early as in the beginning of June. In total, Golos has received 247 messages about pressure, coercion, bribing, and bussing, from 52 regions of Russia.
VTsIOM confirmed the scale of coercion. Commissioned by Kremlin-affiliated Expert Institute of Social Research, findings of its pre-election survey of factory employees were published on 8 September (according to Rosstat, the manufacturing industry employs about 19 million people). 48% factory workers answered that they had faced some illegal coercion by employers, unrelated to labour relations, which is about 9 million, or 17% of the turnout at the 2016 State Duma election. However, manufacturing industry is not exceptional, since such practices exist virtually everywhere, covering both public and private sectors.
The first voting day on 17 September confirmed this, as notifications about violations of secrecy of vote and control over voter participation came from 34 regions of Russia.
Photo and video testimonials from polling stations are impressive, showing hundreds of voters queuing in line in the early morning of a weekday in some polling stations. The CEC Chair Ella Pamfilova had to comment: “We saw lines at some polling stations in the morning, and no social distancing. It is unacceptable,” she stated at the CEC Information Centre. For example, the head of Krasnoyarsk Krai electoral commission Alexey Podushkin had to drive polling station to polling station in person to ask (in vain) the crowds to go away and to vote anytime later. In parallel, members of the Public Chamber of Krasnoyarskiy Krai referred to information about crowded polling stations as “fake news”.
Full-house polling stations were also noted in Irkutsk, Novgorod, Saint-Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Primorsky Krai, Mordovia, Ryazan Oblast, Khabarovsk Krai, Kurgan Oblast, Chuvashia, Krasnodar Krai, and many other regions. In Altaiskiy Krai, e.g. Barnaul, lines of eager voters stayed at some polling stations for more than three hours.
Sverdlovsk Oblast used QR codes to monitor the turnout of public sector employees, a technological practice in place since previous elections.
In a recorded conversation on an official video stream, a chairperson of PEC#436 in Vladimir, Natalya Shadrina, complained on a phone that they “were played off against each other”. In her words, it is not feasible for the commission to serve 1,000 voters in one day; she asked someone to “send them in parts over the three days”.
Notably, the multi-day voting was introduced on a pretext to reduce the concentration of voters amidst the pandemic. However, it ended up as an effective tool for administrative coercion of voters on a working day, resulting in crowds.
Free voting is about expressing a voter’s will without any illegal pressure. Pressing someone to vote or refrain from voting, or preventing someone from free expression of will, is criminally punishable according to Article 3.3 of the Federal Law #63 on Main Guarantees of Electoral Rights.
Three-day voting created artificial challenges for the public oversight of the election transparency. Massive-scale home voting came as another uneasy task in some regions.
Golos received 190 messages on 17 September about mobile voting-related violations from observers and voters in 27 regions, mostly from Moscow (51 notifications), Krasnodarskiy Krai (33) and Moscow Oblast (20).
In particular, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) observers in Krasnodar reported that they had evidence of some voters being added to the home voting list without applying for it. It resulted in a cancellation of an entire list of 70 persons at polling station #2003. Observers at polling station #3901 in Veselaya stanitsa of Pavlovskaya Rayon saw a home voting list including 2,022 voters, almost the entire precinct. This might be the record high level of home-voters. At polling station #1222, the list included 1,192 persons.
Yekaterina Kiltau, Altaiskiy Krai coordinator of Golos, reported that precinct commissions added large numbers of voters on home voting list. Having about 600 voters each, both PECs #595 and #598 have about 100 voters to vote from home. Lists are drafted with obvious violations. At polling station #82, the commission responded they did not have a list of home-voters; their plan allegedly was “to phone people throughout the day and compose a list in the afternoon”.
Predictably, some identified falsifications were associated with home voting. Neat piles of ballots were visible in mobile ballot boxes when the commissions came back from home voting in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Tambov, and Kushchevskaya stanitsa of Krasnodarskiy Krai.
In total, 37 notifications of possible stuffing and other kinds of fraud came from nine regions of Russia during the first voting day (14 from Saint Petersburg, 8 from Moscow, 3 from Krasnodarsliy Krai, Samara Oblast, Moscow Oblast, and Tatarstan, each, and 1 from oblasts of Tambov and Ryazan, and Bashkortostan, each). For example, polling station #3667 in Balashikha, Moscow region, was engaged in stuffing practices almost throughout the day. In the end, the commission’s work was stopped, and police arrested a commission member who would issue several ballots per person.
“Carousel” practice was suspected at polling station #2017 in Krasnodar. A group of fit young men voted once and tried to do it again an hour later. According to an observer, a commission member willingly issued them ballots, while the police remained indifferent.
Observers saw the same people attending different polling stations in central Petersburg, PEC #2234 and 2242.
The reaction of higher-ranking electoral commissions to such scandals deserves a special mention. Saint Petersburg City Electoral Commission made every effort to justify a pre-school employee, a subordinate of a chairperson of PEC#2189, who had been caught with a pile of ballots and tried to escape. At PEC#1615, observers prevented a young man from casting eight ballots instead of four. The stuffer admitted guilt. A pile of sheets was visible in the box of polling station #1809.
Infringements on rights of observers, commission members and media are unfortunately a traditional problem. Under the previous CEC of Russia, this problem was not so pronounced for some years; however, it is returning to the rank of the most common during the recent two years.
Golos received 244 such notifications from 36 regions, with Moscow Oblast in the lead (52), followed by Saint Petersburg (40), Moscow (36), Krasnodarskiy Krai (24), and Tatarstan (14).
Along with denying observers and commission members access to polling stations and attempts at restricting their rights, the most recent years have revitalised the problem of physical pressure against them. In particular, Yabloko reported arrest of their observer coordinator in Krasnodarskiy Krai, Alipat Sultanbegova, who was subsequently brought to the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Interior in Krasnodar City. In the same region, Rostislav Shcherbakov, a proxy of a CPRF State Duma candidate Dmitry Kolomiyets, was attacked in Anapa while leaving the building of PECs #0209/0210 and getting in the car. Someone sprayed gas on his face and gave him several liver punches.
Moscow region is particularly outstanding this year. Police expelled an observer from polling station #1173 in Krasnogorsk because he allegedly “obstructed the election”. In Odintsovo, an observer was expelled after the end of voting. In the same region, a commission member with a consultative vote in Lytkarino received threats, while another commissioner in Kotelniki was offered a bribe to leave the polling station. In Shchelkovo, men wearing sport clothes kept observers out of a polling station.
Notably, multi-day voting stands behind many issues in relations with observers. It made the procedures much more complicated and caused confusion and nervousness in many commission members (and many observers, alike).
Golos runs short-term observation in 51 regions and at polling stations outside Russia. Elections are monitored to check compliance with general standards of free voting. The effort draws on data coming from participants and administrators of the polls, observers, and media representatives. Information is collected via multiple channels, including hotline 8 800 333-33-50, the “Map of Violations”, media, social media, and messengers.
On 17 September, the first day of voting, Golos received 1,261 notifications by the hotline (in total, operators spent 39 hours and 58 minutes on phone), and 1,020 via the Map of Violations and other online tools.
The top-5 of regions by the number of notifications about alleged violations on 17 September, the first voting day: