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ReportOur AssessmentRussian Federation16 March 2024, 14:27
Collage: Ksenia Telmanova

General overview

The Golos Movement has been monitoring the compliance of voting with the international and Russian standards of free expression of will; the monitoring is based on the data provided by voters, organizers of voting, observers and media representatives from the country’s regions through various channels, including the 8 800 500-54-62 hotline, the Map of Violations, mass media, the Internet, social media, and messengers.

The Golos Movement received 97 hotline calls and 268 messages sent via the Map of Violations and other digital communication channels on March 15 — the first voting day — as of 23:59 Moscow time.

In total, during the election campaign, the hotline has received 142 calls, and the Map of Violations and other digital channels have received 1,095 reports.

On March 15, the top five regions reporting alleged violations through the Map of Violations were:

  1. Moscow — 37
  2. St. Petersburg — 36
  3. Moscow Oblast — 28
  4. Krasnodar Krai — 24
  5. Udmurtia — 15.

In total, during the election campaign, the regions reporting most to the Map of Violations were:

  1. Ryazan Oblast — 108
  2. St. Petersburg — 83
  3. Lipetsk Oblast — 80
  4. Moscow — 74
  5. Moscow Oblast — 73.

Principal trends of the voting day

Turnout anomalies and signs of coercion to vote

The morning of the first voting day, a working Friday, brings the main stream of violation reports that traditionally provide evidences of coercion of voters. This year, there is extensive reporting of leveraging digital technologies for coercion to vote, Remote Electronic Voting (REV) primarily. At the end of the day, the REV turnout in all regions, except Moscow, was over 60%. Championing regions were: Kamchatka (83%), Belgorod Oblast (76%), Lipetsk Oblast (76%), Chuvashia (75%), Altai Krai (75%), Vologda Oblast (75%), Kursk Oblast (75%), Tomsk Oblast (75%). Moreover, the lion's share of these votes appeared in the morning, immediately after the voting had started.

Turnout rates at ordinary polling stations do not look natural in many regions. This is still somewhat explainable in some regions, e.g. Chukotka, where a large share of early voting occurs in hard-to-reach areas, but most of the regions cannot refer to this excuse. It is challenging to explain over 50% turnout on the first election day in the Belgorod Oblast (66.38%), Tuva (62.25%), Kuzbass (61.62%), the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (55.63%), Chechnya (55.63%), Kabardino-Balkaria (52.6%). There were hardly any regions with a less than 30% turnout.

Even according the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), as published exactly on March 15, only 14% of respondents reported that it was convenient for them to vote on a working Friday. In contrast, 33% of respondents preferred Saturday and Sunday.

Concurrently, the Map of Violations and the media were getting many reports of coercion to vote throughout the campaign: reports were coming from 50+ regions, mostly from Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Kirov and Samara Oblasts, Udmurtia and Chuvashia.

Coercion reports come from both public and commercial institutions: hospitals, schools, universities, banks, etc.

Some turnout oversight technologies are clearly centralized, not regional. Several regions, from the Far East to the North-West, concurrently reported that voters were forced to report their voting geolocation: voters had to show up at a polling station and open a URL-link to be received via SMS. The system “will not register” unless the voter is within the 150 meter radius from the Precinct Election Commission (PEC). The guidelines’ authors insist on enabling your smartphone geolocation feature for successful reporting.

REV failures

There has never been any REV failure-free election. This one is no exception. The Moscow REV partially crashed in the morning (as well as the federal REV). This resulted in the REV entering “the electronic queue mode” for some time, thus allowing the Electronic Voter List (EVL) and the Electronic Voting Terminals (EVTs) to continue operating at polling stations.

Observers encountered challenges when accessing the EVL and obtaining copies of a number of documents; occasional attempts to restrict observer movement were reported. Not all Precinct Election Commissions propose paper ballots to voters, thus channeling them to vote through EVTs by default; and PECs do not propose to voters to sign a printed-out EVL to acknowledge their receipt of a ballot. However, it cannot be said that any challenge was totally orchestrated or irreparable. A significant share of technical violations was eliminated. There were no serious conflicts with observers, with a few exceptions. There was one known case of an observer being recalled by his/her political party.

A Moscow voter reported impersonation: when at the PEC, she found out that someone had already voted for her in the REV system. The founder of the Ateo Breaking Telegram channel reported a similar case.

Violence at PECs and destruction of ballots

During the day, there were reports from different regions of citizens' attempts to destroy ballots with a dye (the ballots already dropped into ballot boxes) or even to set fire to polling stations. According to some reports, similar incidents occurred in more than 10 regions of the country. The Investigative Committee opened at least 13 criminal cases due to arsons at polling stations and damage to ballot boxes: three cases in the Voronezh Oblast, two cases in Moscow, one case each in the Moscow, Rostov and Volgograd Oblasts, Karachay-Cherkessia, Krasnodar Krai, Veliky Novgorod, Kogalym, and Simferopol.

This is not a completely new phenomenon for the Russian electoral system. The first such cases were recorded during the vote to amend the Russian Constitution in 2020. At that time, several criminal cases were initiated; and there are explanations of the accused in court files. Court files report that they all were convinced that something wrong was happening, that the whole essence of what was going on was emasculated, and at the same time, they understood they had no influence on the situation.

It is still to be found out what is the reason for the current wave of such aggressive behavior, whether this is aligned with the motivation of the people who committed similar things four years ago.

Some PECs located in the immediate vicinity of the frontline were under shelling. The Golos Movement has repeatedly pointed out that elections should not be hold in an environment where it is impossible to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms (and hostilities is the case) and ensure free formation and manifestation of the voters’ will.

Obstructing public scrutiny of elections

This year's voting days differ from previous federal elections: there is virtually no real observation at polling stations. According to our polling station analysis, they are attended almost exclusively by the observers representing the candidate Vladimir Putin and the Civic Chambers.

For example, according to the Kirov Oblast Election Commission, not a single observer has been delegated to the region by candidates Vladislav Davankov and Leonid Slutsky or by the political parties that nominated them. The number of observers from Nikolai Kharitonov and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is about three times less than that of Vladimir Putin. At the same time, during the day (and for several previous days), various regions reported that some delegated observers were recalled. This happened in the Ivanovo, Moscow, Chelyabinsk Oblasts and other regions. In total, 10 regions reported violations of the rights of observers, members of precinct election commissions, and media representatives.

Separately, it is worth mentioning the cases where election organizers or law enforcers tried to interdict exit polling. At that, they sometimes provide ridiculous reasons to remove observers or even exit pollsters. For example, the chairman of the 2304 Precinct Election Commission in Krasnodar accused observer Dmitry Sushkov of molesting him by touching the chairman’s intimate parts. In Chelyabinsk, activist Kirill Zamanov was arrested near his dwelling and detained for three days for “demonstrating banned symbols.” According to the Chelyabinsk of the Future channel, Zamanov was supposed to exit poll at one of the polling stations. The Civic Chamber observers attacked Dmitry Rumyantsev, head of Boris Nadezhdin's city headquarters, when voting in Kazan.

Observers from the Civic Chamber deserve special attention. Their training guidelines focus them on two key tasks that hardly comply with the independent observation principles: to promote the ongoing election and to assist law enforcers in preventing unrest on the election days.

Candidates' headquarters and even election commissions could not log in to the Our Choice 2024 video surveillance system. Observers at polling stations report that even the election commissions cannot log in to the system to make sure that their cameras operate and broadcast, etc. This hiccup persisted until this morning.

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