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StatementOur Assessment13 September 2022, 08:39
Collage: Ksenia Telmanova

Table of Contents

1. Particularities of the past election campaign  

1.1 Manipulation of legislation on the eve of elections  

1.2 Conscious misrepresentation of citizens  

1.3 Decreased motivation to exercise passive suffrage  

1.4 Lacking environment for free public political debate  

1.5 Lowering standards of openness and transparency in the work of electoral commissions  

2. Preliminary observation results on the voting days of September 9-11  

2.1 Forceful pressure on members of election committees, observers, candidates, their proxies and media representatives  

2.2 Negative effects of multi-day voting  

2.3 Voter coercion  

2.4 Challenges with "in-home" voting and early voting  

2.5 Non-compliance with voting procedures, storing and counting of electoral documents, indications of fraud  

2.6 The risks of voting digitalization  

On the Single Voting Day, 11 September 2022, 4,728 elections were held in Russia, including direct elections for heads of 14 regions, elections to six regional parliaments and numerous local elections.

The Golos representatives conducted long-term and short-term observations at all stages of the election campaign.

The long-term observation resulted in four analytical reports: on campaigning and voter mobilization, on nomination and registration of candidates at the main regional and local elections, and on the political and legal particularities of the elections.

Short-term observation was organized in 19 regions.

"Golos received information from observers, election committee members, mass media, voters, election candidates, political parties and partner observer organizations through a variety of channels, including the 8-800-500-54-62 hotline, the Violations Map, and the Internet.

The joint call center hotline received 608 calls during the election period (total call center consultation time was 1 day 15 hours and 40 minutes). The Violations Map received 1,746 violation reports during the campaign period by 08:00 a.m. Moscow time on September 12, including 1,037 violation reports on the election days.

Golos is guided in its election evaluation by the provisions of the applicable Russian Constitution and the international electoral standards recognized by Russia, which establish that free elections are the supreme expression of the will of the people, they are held in a competitive campaign environment, they ensure equal opportunities for election candidates, voters participate freely, and voting and voice counting procedures allow to credibly determine the real will of voters. Freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly are also recognized as prerequisites for the free formation of the will of voters.

In its preliminary evaluation of the past elections, the Golos movement has to state that it cannot recognize these elections as truly free, fully complying with the Constitution, the laws of the Russian Federation and international electoral standards, since the election outcomes were achieved in unfree, unequal election campaigns in an environment of restrictions on the right to be elected for a substantial number of citizens and on basic political rights and freedoms. Under such conditions, it is impossible to establish the real will of the voters, especially since the voters themselves are in no hurry to manifest their will.

The key challenge of the 2022 elections — in terms of ensuring an environment for the free expression of the will of the voters — is the large-scale attack on the remnants of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Russia. In fact, at the moment, the majority of citizens are deprived of the opportunity to get information that would be alternative to the official information of the public authorities about the most important issues of political, socio-economic, cultural and public life in the country, and the majority of citizens are deprived of the opportunity to freely express their opinions. This has been set up both technologically (by blocking a large number of media outlets and the largest social media outlets not under the control of the public authorities) and substantively (through reprisals against those who voice views that differ from the official views of the public authorities).

Excessive and unconstitutional restrictions on the right to be elected and repression of opponents of the incumbent authorities have significantly narrowed the pool of registered candidates resulting in the content of the ballot papers being significantly different from the political spectrum of the Russian society.

Registered candidates were limited in their criticism of the government actions to the maximum extent. The restriction to hold public rallies, which had been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and which remained in place even after Rospotrebnadzor lifted other restrictions, seriously impeded the exercise of citizens' rights and freedoms, and thus impeded the free formation of the will of the electorate.

All this has led to an extremely low level of citizen interest in the elections and to a low level of citizen participation in voting even despite administrative coercion and lotteries at polling stations. Turnout in many cases has dropped even in comparison to its low levels five years ago.

1. Particularities of the past election campaign

The past election campaign was characterized by the following particularities.

1.1 Manipulation of legislation on the eve of elections

International standards recognized by Russia state that one of the most important conditions for holding free and democratic elections is the stability of electoral legislation. This is to ensure that the forces in power cannot manipulate the rules for their own benefit.

In reality, it has become a tradition to adopt significant changes in the electoral legislation just before the election campaign starts. This time, in the 18 federal subjects where significant elections were held, the latest version of the regional laws was adopted less than 30 days before the elections were announced; and in the Vladimir, Omsk and Sakhalin Oblasts, the latest amendments were adopted less than a week before election campaign started.

This created undue advantages for the incumbent authorities, who, unlike the opposition, had known about the changes being prepared in advance, and they were able to prepare for them.

1.2 Conscious misrepresentation of citizens

In 2022, the conjunctural changes of the electoral and political party systems continued at regional and local levels. In particular, the requirement to distribute at least 25% of mandates in regional parliaments under the proportional system was removed. The share of mandates allocated under the proportional system decreased, but the share of majoritarian constituencies increased, which also led to changes in the boundaries of these constituencies: this was a significant factor for campaign planning. As a consequence, there was an even greater distortion of voter representation, as under the majoritarian system voters who voted for unsuccessful candidates were effectively deprived of their representation. The reduction in the share of seats allocated under the proportional system, given the widespread use of unfair mandate allocation systems (such as the Imperiali quota), tangibly distorts the very principle of proportionality in favor of the leader. As a result, the political environment — already significantly distorted — has become even more monopolized.

1.3 Decreased motivation to exercise passive suffrage

This year, there were some of the lowest numbers of citizens who wished to exercise their right to be elected. Few party lists and single-mandate candidates were nominated. At the same time, some prominent politicians who had contested the elections in the past refused to be nominated in the first place. The opposition parties' "substitutes' benches" proved to be extremely short, and people who had neither prospects nor a clear desire to actually compete for mandates were put on the ballots. Some election campaigns, particularly at the highest gubernatorial level, were built on outright collusion between allegedly competing candidates.

Competition was also lower because of the arbitrary and clearly politically motivated decisions of many election committees to exclude candidates (for "extremism", "discrediting the army", etc.) and because of the general pressure on the opposition, which turned into political repressions.

1.4 Lacking environment for free public political debate

The state and mass media have failed in performing their obligation to citizens to ensure that they are free to discuss issues of public importance.

First, in most of the regions where the elections took place, there was virtually no mass media coverage of the election campaigns. Mass media simply did not write about the elections. However, the candidates themselves often did not make even minimal efforts to ensure visibility in the media.

Second, leveraging administrative resources to give a ruling party candidate an advantage in campaigning became almost uncontrollable. Monitoring of regional mass media, websites of public authorities, local authorities and organizations showed that in none of the regions of the gubernatorial elections was the situation even somewhat resembling the real equality of candidates in mass media coverage of their activities. The official portals of public authorities became virtually indistinguishable from the state-owned mass media, and all together they turned into sprawling PR apparatuses to promote administrative candidates at the taxpayers' expense. As a result, government and municipal websites, in violation of Russian law and the very spirit of the Russian Constitution, have become part of the propaganda machines for "administrative" candidates.

Practically all references to "administrative" candidates were not formally associated with their participation in the elections, but with the exercise of their official duties. The Golos movement has been insisting for years on the need to legislate the obligation for the senior officials who are election candidate to take leave for the whole duration of the election campaign.

1.5 Lowering standards of openness and transparency in the work of electoral commissions

Public scrutiny of the election process was strongly hit by the legislation prior to the 2022 elections.

First, contrary to the provisions of Article 11 (4) and (5) of the Convention on the Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in the CIS Member States, the institution of advisory election committee members who used to have the right to review election committee documents was abolished in constituency, territorial and precinct election committees.

Second, non-transparent forms of voting (distance e-voting and multi-day voting) continue to proliferate.

Third, the Central Electoral Committee (CEC) builds obstacles to free access to official information about the voting process and election results. E.g., instead of introducing machine-readable formats for the presentation of election results, on the contrary, machine analysis of the election results is impeded in every way possible. For example, in the evening of September 11, the electoral system portal re-enabled captcha and code obfuscation: the codes of the tables changed, and some of the data was hidden.

Fourth, public video surveillance has been abandoned.

All these things radically violate the openness and transparency principle of election committees declared by Russian law and which is a must in free elections. Instead of being able to actually verify the integrity of the voting and vote count, Russian citizens are offered a mock public observation in the form of observers from the regional Public Chambers who are closely associated with the public authorities they are supposed to oversight.

2. Preliminary observation results on the voting days of September 9-11

This section summarizes the findings of independent observation by numerous Golos representatives on the voting days of September 9-11, 2022. Specific facts are presented in the Violations Map, the Election Day Chronicle and Express Reviews, and these will be presented in the Golos' final report later

2.1 Forceful pressure on members of election committees, observers, candidates, their proxies and media representatives

The practice of pressure, including forceful pressure, on election committee members, candidates, observers, proxies and media representatives — all the things that the Russian CEC has declared as things they would fight against since 2016 — is back on track. Over the last two years, interaction with election observers has returned to the confrontational level seen previously, with the CEC regrettably taking the lead in forces seeking to limit public scrutiny as much as possible once again.

On the election days, election candidates, their representatives and representatives of mass media faced massive attempts to restrict their rights (prohibition to move around polling stations, to shoot photos and videos there, limited access to the documents of election committees) and the practice of extrajudicial removal of election observers from polling stations by police officers. There were even beatings and other forceful actions against election observers, including by unidentified persons, right inside or at the entrance of voting premises.

Election committees were no longer responding to complaints of election candidates and election observers in a meaningful way, delaying their consideration by responding with formal replies or formulaic answers. This was particularly the case with the election observations over compliance with the voice counting procedures. Police officers rarely responded to election observers' reports of violations committed by election committee members.

Not least in this escalation of conflict and violence was the Central Electoral Committee (CEC) of Russia, whose initiative abolished the status of the advisory members of election committees, which had proved effective for almost 30 years and had been frequently used by election candidates and political parties. Abolition of the status against the backdrop of the over-regulated election observer status has led to a higher number of appointments of candidate representatives as proxies. This growth has indicated the degree to which the main electoral stakeholders — political parties and election candidates, and the society as a whole — have been interested in having an effective tool to oversight the activities of election committees, which have been having a clear lack of people's confidence.

However, together with regional election committees (e.g. the Pskov Oblast Election Committee), the CEC did not recognize the problem in compromising the standards of transparency in the operations of election committees, but rather opted for confrontation attempting to limit the rights and powers of proxies.

The hate rhetoric broadcasted recently by the top officials of the electoral system towards citizen observers has been creating a corresponding environment in the lower-level election committees. We are in a situation again where election observers and election committee members initially perceive each other as enemies and expect reciprocal provocation.

2.2 Negative effects of multi-day voting

Multi-day voting has an extremely negative impact on the electoral system. The key problems are the convenience of using it to coerce voters to vote and the inability to guarantee the security of ballots during their overnight storage. Friday, the working day on which the first day of voting falls, allows employers to better control the participation of their employees in elections as evidenced by the shift in the array of voter and observer reports of coercion from Sunday to Friday. An indirect but a very vivid evidence of this phenomenon was the Distance e-Voting (DEV) in Moscow: over 1 mln citizens voted through DEV by 20:00 on Friday September 9; 436 thousand citizens voted via DEV on the following day; and 302 thousand citizens voted on the third day. It is extremely difficult to explain the mass voting in the morning hours of the working day by anything other than coercion.

Observers also regularly reported problems with the security of ballots: voting rooms were not always locked, security bags were not properly sealed, and there were indications seen in the morning that the security bags had been accessed, moved and opened at night time. Observers were often rejected the opportunity to fully monitor the process of packing ballot papers into security bags, moving them into safe boxes, sealing the voting rooms; observers were not given relevant certificates, and they were forced out of the election committee premises. At the same time, the very election committee members stayed longer hours in the premises and made some non-monitored manipulations with the election documents.

The introduction of three-day voting significantly increased the workload of election committee members and election observers, and complicated the already sophisticated procedures of election committees.

However, the argument that extended voting would make it more convenient for voters and increase voter turnout proved untenable. Practice shows that three-day voting cannot compensate for the much more fundamental electoral challenges associated with low competition, bias of electoral committees and courts, and unequal election candidate rights. No significant turnout increase has been seen (with the exception of the DEV story in Moscow where lotteries and administrative coercion have been used), and in many cases voter turnout has even declined: e.g., in the Barnaul City Duma elections in 2017, turnout was 19.3% and it was 13.6% in 2022; in Pskov, turnout was 22% and then 14.5%; in Yaroslavl, turnout dropped from 30.2% to 18%.

Moreover, we forecast that the increasing distrust of elections associated with the above-mentioned challenges of multi-day voting will only worsen the situation in the medium term: there will be virtually no voters in regional and local elections who would come to vote voluntarily because their motivation to participate in elections will diminish.

2.3 Voter coercion

Voter coercion has become a characteristic problem of Russian elections. This year it was particularly evident in Moscow. Here, the main administrative mobilization took place on Friday with the use of the DEV. There is ample evidence that employees of budgetary institutions (on the payroll of the government) had to prove that they had voted to their superiors.

It should be noted that in a number of regions observers reported that administrative and corporate mobilization was actually "turned off" this year. Public authorities, being confident of the outcomes, in the absence of any competition, preferred, in the current difficult social situation, not to irritate citizens unnecessarily and to hold elections as unobtrusively for the citizens as possible.

2.4 Challenges with "in-home" voting and early voting

In-home voting and early voting remain actively leveraged technologies for altering the results of voting. These methods are three-dimensional: 1) drawing those people into elections who have not expressed their desire to vote at home by using lists compiled by public social services; 2) using the lack of oversight by observers to commit routine ballot stuffing or fraud: some polling station committees have shown unrealistic numbers of in-home voters, and early voting is often extremely difficult to monitor due to its lengthy timeline; 3) using coercion like the one seen in the early days of the three-day voting.

Problems with in-home voting were reported over the three days from 14 regions. Of particular note was the Penza Oblast, where in-home voting accounted for 27.5% of all votes cast, and the Pskov Oblast (about 30% of all votes).

In Vladivostok's municipal elections, early voting had a huge impact on the election results, with its share of the overall extremely low turnout exceeding that of the citizens voting on Sunday September 11.

2.5 Non-compliance with voting procedures, storing and counting of electoral documents, indications of fraud

It will take some time to evaluate the extent of fraud in the September 11, 2022 elections. At the time of drafting this statement, reports of ballot box stuffing, rewritten election result protocols and other falsifications were received by Golos from observers in 8 regions. First of all, Krasnodar Krai traditionally stands out, where completed ballots were found (they were concealed by election committee members), ballot boxes were packed with neat piles of ballots, election result protocols were rewritten, turnout figures reported by observers were different from the turnout figures reported by election committees and the gap was tenfold sometimes, and overnight ballot swaps were reported. Other regions with similar problems included Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kemerovo, Moscow, Saratov, Tambov and Tatarstan.

As the Russian Constitutional Court has pointed out in Decision 1575-O dated 25.06.2019, the legislator shall take the necessary care "to ensure that the electoral procedures it introduces are fair and transparent, prevent the possibility of falsification of the results of the electoral process, promote an objective and accurate reflection of the actual results of the electoral will of citizens". The Constitutional Court has also pointed out that only the consistent implementation of the regulatory requirements leaves no room for inaccurate (incorrect) vote counting and wrong (incorrect) reflection of votes in the election result protocols.

Procedural violations, which could be due to preparations to commit falsifications or the desire to conceal them from observers, were recorded in 17 regions of the country. The leading regions were Moscow and the Moscow Region. There were many reports of problems with security bags and other procedural violations in the storage of ballots and election documents.

2.6 The risks of voting digitalization

Two Distance e-Voting (DEV) platforms were used in the elections in 8 regions: a federal platform (Kaliningrad, Kaluga, Kursk, Novgorod, Pskov, Tomsk and Yaroslavl Oblasts) and the Moscow platform (Moscow city).

Both experts and election participants had no opportunity to analyze the software code of all system components for vulnerabilities and "bookmarks", as the latest software versions were not published, nor were the technical documents on the systems. Moreover, even if the software codes had been published, the election organizers did not provide tools to compare the executable codes of the systems with the previously published software code for benchmarking. Nor were the configuration files of the systems, which contain key information about the settings of the electronic procedures, published.

The federal DEV platform was not adapted for the tabulation of election results in different time zones. The DEV counting started in all seven regions concurrently, only after voting ended in Kaliningrad, when it was 02:00 in Tomsk.

For the first time, the DEV federal platform restricted the feature of saving transaction files. This function was available only to the observers officially nominated by election candidates and political parties who accessed the observation portal through the State Services portal (the Single Identification and Authentication System). No such restrictions were imposed on the DEV platform in Moscow. However, the Moscow platform has introduced new monitoring tools: a verification transaction allowing to "sign" the blockchain and ensure that it was not tampered, and the option to deploy party-side monitoring NODs (deputies--observers). Four parties applied to organize NODs: the United Russia, the CPRF, the New People, and Yabloko. In the end, only the United Russia and the New People deployed their NODs.

However, two key challenges persist in DEV: convenience of administrative mobilization of voters and voter identification (election observers cannot be certain that all votes have been cast by voters in person). In addition, unlike the "paper" voting method, there is no opportunity for a supervisory recount: there is no way to verify or challenge the election results.

In Moscow, the Electronic Voter Register (EVR) information system was used in local elections for the first time in Russia, thus abandoning the use of paper voter lists at polling stations and the pre-filing of voter applications to vote through the DEV.

Many polling stations experienced troubles accessing the DEV in the middle of the first day of voting for one and a half hours, which made it challenging for voters to cast their ballots. There were also incidents at polling stations with the voters who wanted to get a paper ballot, but they were told that they had previously received a ballot for voting via DEV. These incidents could happen for a number of reasons: imperfect user interface for ballot issuance at automated workstations (AWS) of the election committee members when the committee member mistakenly perceived the voter's status display, this could happen because the DEV ballot had been received but not used to vote through DEV, in which case the system blocked voting via the paper ballot, and the voter believed that if s/he had not marked her/his electronic ballot, then s/he was still eligible to vote at the polling station.

The introduction of an electronic version of the voter list, unlike the paper version, has led to a situation in which election committees are in fact unlawfully banned to amend it: clarifying, deleting or adding entries on the voter list (this is done automatically without the involvement of election committee members).

 What draws attention is the significant gap between the 1,748,616 ballots issued by the Moscow DEV platform and the 1,692,196 votes received: the gap is 56,420 ballots. That is, these voters received a ballot but did not vote for some reason. Also, at the counting phase election committee members encountered problems accessing the EVR in a number of polling stations.

The Golos movement has repeatedly proposed to introduce a single transparent voter register for the entire country. Introduction of the Electronic Voter Register is a step in this direction. However, the existing system requires improvement as it lacks effective tools to oversight changes in the data in the existing version of the voter list.

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