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StatementOur Assessment15 September 2020, 10:38
Collage: Ksenia Telmanova

The municipal and regional Single Election Day 2020 served as the final rehearsal of the federal parliamentary campaign in Russia, due next year. Effectively, this was the ‘final chord’ of the acting composition of the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) and its chairperson, whose term in office is to expire in March next year. The elections displayed two strongly conflicting trends.

On one hand, change in electoral preferences of citizens is becoming increasingly evident. Where such an opportunity was available, many voters backed either ‘new faces’ or other candidates and parties that had not been very popular before.

On the other hand, the election administrations have responded to this situation with growing efforts to maintain their power. They have filtered out politicians, even those previously considered ‘systemic’, at the stage of registration; created their own imitational organizations with the purpose of substituting civil society ones and pushing out certain political actors; put candidates and civil activists under undue pressure; introduced and expanded non-transparent and unobservable procedures; complicated access to final voting results; and, finally, opted for direct and massive fraud.

Having monitored the electoral campaign and the voting days with an eye on the upcoming elections to the State Duma, the Golos movement has arrived at following conclusions:

1. The regulation of the voting process on the Single Election Day 2020 was the worst in 25 years. Election administrations and legislators clearly made no effort to increase public trust in the electoral process. This applies to the electoral system in general, and the voting procedures and results in particular. The most recent amendments to the federal legislation mostly aimed at restricting voting rights and discouraging the public from exercising election oversight. In particular, signature collection rules were made more restrictive, and rights of observers suffered more attacks. No change occurred to alleviate ‘the municipal filter’. The number of eliminated candidates demonstrates how difficult it is for a politician unapproved by authorities to pass the stage of candidate registration.

2. Criteria for public office eligibility were amended to include more restrictions in the run-up to the election. Another fifty articles of the Criminal Code were added to disqualify certain candidates from running for office. Golos is concerned that this development can lead to a growing number of engineered criminal charges against potential parliamentary candidates.

3. Amidst the increasing interest of people in contributing to decision making, the crackdown on the rights of voters has made the repressive component of politics more of a challenge for both emerging and established political actors. For a second year in a row, election commissions have exercised aggression against the candidates, members of their teams, and observers, who find themselves under administrative or physical pressure, and sometimes face sheer violence. Citizen observers documented violent incidents inside the polling stations during the voting days and the vote-count, including cases of physical abuse by election administrators.

4. The violence was frequently associated with early voting and home voting, both of which offer broad possibilities for fraud. Observers documented illegal opening of security boxes with pre-marked ballots, issuing of ballots to voters without asking for their signatures, unauthorized proxy voting, forced voting, and ballot box stuffing.

5. In some regions, voting days were marked by active countermeasures against the work of observers, commission members working in a consultative capacity, and journalists trying to monitor the procedures to ensure that rights of voters during are protected. Observing early voting and early mobile voting was the most problematic; importantly, these modes of voting were instrumental for achieving the election results. In many big regions, the share of early voters exceeded the share of main-day voters.

During the voting and vote-count, the Golos hotline and The Map of Violations received notifications of forced voting, breeched freedom of will, and grave violations, such as ballot box stuffing, voter bribery, multiple voting, and unauthorized proxy voting.

6. Notably, some voting innovations, such as internet voting, multi-day early voting, and early home voting, are not in line with neither international nor Russian constitutional standards of election administration rules. As the Constitutional Court has prescribed in its Ruling 1575-О from 25 June 2019, in exercising its powers of regulating voting rights and the election procedures, the legislator “shall take due care to keep the electoral procedures fair and transparent, enabling them to prevent falsification of the election results and facilitate impartial and reliable reflection of citizens’ will. Otherwise, the electoral legislation would fail to comply with the constitutional nature of elections, which implies that public authorities devised to represent and express citizens’ interests are shaped on the basis of fair expression of voters’ genuine will”.

7. The conduct of many precinct and territorial election commissions can be described as ‘legal tyranny and nihilism’. Over the course of the last four years, Golos has never received such a massive flow of communications on the utter disregard of legal provisions, including those regulating the rights of observers and commission members. Chairs and secretaries of election commissions blatantly rejected complaints and requests to review documents (e.g. voter lists) or receive copies of early voting records. In breach of federal law, election commissions artificially protracted the examination of complaints and requests, effectively blocking observers’ efforts to stop or prevent violations, or, in some cases, making time for the commission to ‘cover up tracks’.

8. A massive smear campaign was launched against independent observers, including accusations of deliberate attempt to destroy trust in elections as such. The goal of the campaign is to undermine confidence in discovered electoral violations and stir up hostilities and divisions in society by creating the image of ‘enemies of the nation’.

9. In this regard, the current members of the Russian CEC, whose term expires in spring next year and for whom these elections are the final in their office term, have demonstrated regress to the standards of the Churov times in their attitude toward election observers and participants. The positive change achieved during the first three-and-a-half years in office of this CEC, primarily thanks to Ella Pamfilova’s great efforts, have been almost completely destroyed during the last year. Having taken the path of favoring the use of administrative resources and openly biased and unequal treatment of candidates, CEC is to blame for the broken executive and legal discipline of lower-level commissions during the summer, the promotion of maximally non-transparent and fraud-friendly forms of voting, and efforts to discredit observers. By means of all this, the current CEC has created the preconditions for a full-scale crisis of the electoral and political system. This will be the legacy that new CEC members will be left to deal with, as was the case five years ago when the current CEC members took office.

10. These elections saw extraordinary measures to minimize voters’ ability to make an informed choice in a meaningful public discussion. Traditional tools of state propaganda and public opinion manipulation were supplemented by restrictions of freedom of assembly on a pretext of epidemiological concerns. The prohibition of open-air rallies, protests, and campaign meetings looks unfounded and politically motivated in a situation where shopping malls, cinemas, museums, bars, and restaurants, have remained open. Moreover, the government-supported candidates were released from this ban. The truth is that the citizens were artificially deprived of a fundamental political freedom, which belongs to the system of democratic institutions instrumental for freedom of expression and free will.

11. Remarkably, the majority of the quasi-observers delegated by public chambers ignored their constitutional mission of supervising compliance with election legislation, including on vote counting, as prescribed by the Constitutional Court in its Ruling 1422-O from 7 July 2016. The abovementioned quasi-observers spent three days imitating observation and systematically overlooking blatant violations of election legislation and procedures. They predominantly occupied themselves with their private affairs while at the polling stations, many leaving the stations at the start of the vote count. In rare cases when some of them called attention to violations, they were asked to leave the office. Lidia Mikheyeva, the Secretary of the Public Chamber, noted that their observers had documented only 11 (eleven) violations, while about 44,000 persons allegedly observed the voting.

Golos believes that the right of free independent citizen observation should be re-established in the law, with the possibility for any NGO and local group to delegate their own observers to polling stations.

12. Fast-paced introduction of ‘additional forms’ of voting, which in itself is a breach of the principle of legislative stability, was made worse by a lack of adequate training of election commission members. It resulted in multiple mistakes in their work and an atmosphere of chaos and panic in the commissions, leading to arbitrary interpretations of the law. Unfortunately, it reinforced the trend of massive violations of voting procedures and vote counting by commissions, which were already visible during the all-Russian constitutional vote. As the Constitutional Court indicated in its Ruling 1575-O from 25 June 2019, consistent adherence to electoral procedures set by the law is the only way to prevent imprecise counting of votes and incorrect documentation thereof in the final voting record.

13. At the by-elections to the State Duma in the Kursk and Yaroslavl Regions, the Russian CEC used a new non-transparent system of online voting with a prospect of full-scale application in the upcoming elections. Given the lack of observation instruments and vulnerabilities in place, its further use can be associated with critical risks of failures and interceptions, and should be treated with suspicion by the general public.

The election results in many cities and regions indicate the newly relevant need for real election day observation. This is the primary tool for defending the right of voters to make a difference in shaping their representative bodies. It is particularly important in the run-up to the upcoming federal election, which has a higher diversity of candidates and in which voters could gain a real chance of influencing the federal setup of political forces. However, this chance largely depends on the ability of the public to observe the voting in each election commission.

General statistics 

The movement, Golos conducted citizen observation throughout the election campaign in the run-up to and during the Single Election Day on 13 September 2020 in Russia. Delegated by the movement, Golos observers were engaged in long-term and short-term observation at all stages of the election campaign.

The primary targets of observation included the direct elections of the senior officials in constituent entities of the Russian Federation in 18 regions; elections of members of regional legislatures in 11 entities of the Russian Federation; and municipal elections in 22 regional centers. Long-term observation was undertaken in 26 regions, and the main-day short-term observation in 38 regions. 

Regional branches of Golos trained about 3,000 observers to monitor the Single Election Day on 13 September 2020. About 1,500 observers contributed to the citizen observation.

The observers monitored the electoral campaign against traditional standards of free elections and principles of equality. The analysis is based on regional data coming from participants and administrators of the elections, observers, and voters, via multiple channels, including the hotline 8 800 333-33-50, The Map of Violations, the media, and the internet. SMS-Shtab and SMS-TSIK (SMS-Headquarters and SMS-CEC), the two special information services of Golos, were also available.

Golos hotline received 1,482 calls throughout the campaign, including 793 calls starting with the evening of 12 September, Moscow time. Out of this number, 185 calls contained requests that had to be addressed by professional lawyers. The total duration of all calls throughout the campaign amounted to 4 days, 9 hours, and 25 minutes.

The Map of Violations received 605 communications on alleged violations during the voting day and over the course of vote counting from 51 regions of Russia. Altogether, 1,699 communications came from 59 regions throughout the campaign. In 474 cases, the communications included a note on formal complaints made, and 66 mentioned that formal response had been received.

The top five regions by the number of communications on alleged violations received by The Map of Violations on the voting day and during the vote count on 13 September:

  • Krasnodar Territory — 117
  • Chelyabinsk Region — 47
  • Tatarstan — 44
  • Nizhniy Novgorod Region — 36
  • Samara Region and Moscow City — 34 each

By number of communications to The Map of Violations on alleged violations throughout the campaign, the leaders are as follows:

  • Krasnodar Territory — 284
  • Chelyabinsk Region — 118
  • Samara Region — 114
  • Ivanovo Region — 105
  • Oryol Region — 91

In communications in the run-up to the voting day, the following alleged violations were in the lead:

  • Abuse of the ‘administrative resources’ — 187
  • Early voting violations — 176
  • Violations of rules of printed and outdoor campaigning — 123
  • Pressure, forced voting, and voter bribery — 118
  • Violations of rights of commission members, observers, and media — 114

During the voting days 11 – 13 September, the following topics were in the lead: 

  • Violations of rights of commission members, observers, and media (restricted movement, prohibition of photographing, etc.) — 293
  • Early voting violations — 292
  • Forced voting and voter bribery — 139
  • Home voting violations — 113
  • Abuse of the ‘administrative resources’ — 105
  • Multiple types of distortion of results: ballot box stuffing, unauthorized proxy voting, illegitimate adding to the list of voters, etc. — 88

Crowd-sourced by observers and common citizens, these statistics do not reflect the full scale of election violations and fraud in a given region. Rather than a precise indicator of actual violations, the above-mentioned figures testify to the level of civic activism and emerging intolerance to violations of voter rights, as well as to the pace of observers’ communication with the system of the election commissions. We acknowledge the work of election commissions and law enforcement authorities in cases of prompt and constructive responses to information received by The Map of Violations and for measures taken to normalize the electoral process, identify and hold accountable real violators and falsifiers, and in some cases defend the information providers. We condemn those who try to undermine trust in this resource by attempting to get knowingly false information published on it, or by calling on the public to ignore information shared by Russian citizens and published on The Map of Violations.

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