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“Golos”: On September 10, Russia held administratively controlled elections

(September 12, 2017)


Statement on election monitoring results of Single Election Day on September 10, 2017

The “Golos” movement conducted long-term and short-term public monitoring of the Single Election Day elections in Russia on September 10, 2017. The monitoring resulted in analytical reports and the following statement.

Election campaign

Election commissions organizing elections in the Russian Federation

Analysis of the current composition of 22 election commissions of the entities of the Russian Federation, which organize major elections, allows us to conclude that their current formation procedure does not appropriately take into account the interests of non-parliamentary parties and of civil society.

Despite the efforts of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Russian Federation to reduce the share of state and municipal employees in the commissions, the tendency for a disproportionate strengthening of the position of the United Russia party in the commissions continues. This is happening largely because of the introduction of United Russia members and functionaries to the commissions, as well as of party-related persons from public associations, municipal entities, and other organizations.

In our opinion, the positive trend towards an increase in representation of parties that don’t belong to the “federal four” (United Russia, Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party, and Fair Russia) in the composition of the election commissions of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation established in the period 2016-2017, is currently happening without taking into account the real political weight of specific non-parliamentary parties and their support by voters in the regions.

At the same time, it must be admitted that the regional authorities continue to play a decisive role in forming the composition and especially the leadership of the electoral commissions of the subjects of the Russian Federation, and that the influence of the CEC of Russia on this process remains very limited.

The dependency of several election commissions on regional authorities manifested itself during the election campaigns of 2017. We are primarily referring to the territorial election commissions of the city of Moscow, as well as the election commissions of the Altai Territory, whose controversial actions and decisions aroused widespread negative reaction from election participants, the general public, and the CEC of Russia. We believe that, with regard to these elections and following the results of the 2017 election campaign, there organizational changes ought to be made related to the aforementioned commissions.

Nomination and registration of candidates and party lists for state representative bodies. The level of competition remains relatively low – confirmed in particular by the results of the gubernatorial (heads of regions) elections. We would like to stress the reduction in the number of self-nominated candidates. The degree of electoral competition varies widely by region and hinges largely on the organizational capacity of administrative officials. The most competitive elections were the municipal elections, particularly in certain municipalities of Moscow.

The lists of the Duma parties, the so-called “federal four” (United Russia, Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party, and Fair Russia), were registered without hindrance (although attempts were made to remove the Communist Party lists in some regions using the court, they ultimately remained on the ballots), while other, “non-parliamentary” parties were faced with denials of registration.

In comparison with previous years, the work of election commissions organizing the elections was more open and informative. But problems with obtaining the necessary information and getting access to election documents remain, and have been reported in regard to regional, territorial, and municipal election commissions.

In 2017, unlike in the elections of 2014 and 2015, no cases were documented in which the election commissions themselves directly prevented the nomination and registration of candidates or party lists. At the same time, commissions that organize the elections (as well as regional and local administrations) provided selective support for nomination and registration to those political players who act as “spoilers” or “technical” candidates.

Administrative control over the elections has shifted to the preliminary stage of the election campaign, to the process of selecting and nominating candidates and party lists, and to the stage of holding party conferences. There have been cases of exerting administrative pressure, including by security forces, on certain prospective candidates, as well as members and heads of regional and local branches of political parties, with the goal of preventing the nomination of those prospective candidates.

The wide participation of state and municipal employees and top officials in purely party and political events related to the nomination and registration of candidates and lists of candidates from the “United Russia” party has become such a common practice that it is no longer perceived as something dubious or inadmissible.

In the municipal elections in Moscow, informal socio-political groups successfully supported the nomination and registration of independent and opposition candidates. This phenomenon is natural, but also expresses the crisis of the entire political party system, and its inadequacy to represent the interests of large swaths of the population.

Nomination and registration of candidates for the elections of the heads of regions. To sum up: on September 10, 2017, the Russian Federation held direct elections of senior officials of the subjects of the Russian Federation in 16 regions.

As in previous years, the most acute problems in the election of the heads of regions are linked to candidates overcoming the so-called “municipal filter.” The “Golos” movement consistently opposes the use of this method of screening candidates as one that restricts the electoral rights of citizens (both the right to be elected and the right to elect) and hampers political competition. “Golos” believes that it is impossible to hold free and competitive elections of heads of the subjects of the Russian Federation while the “municipal filter” is in place.

The existing “municipal filter” practice is accompanied by widespread “administrative pressure” on municipal deputies and by the use of public resources (organizational, logistic, informational, and other) to ensure collection of signatures in favor of certain administrative candidates (current heads or deputies), as well as in favor of so-called “technical” candidates who are running to ensure the appearance of competition in elections. Instead of being a mechanism of electoral support for candidates for the post of head of region, it is actually a means of political filtration of rivals who are, for one reason or another, unacceptable to regional authorities. These assumptions are confirmed by the extremely weak election results of candidates running against current regional heads. What is more, election commissions, judicial and law enforcement bodies, local communities, political parties, the media, public organizations, and the candidates themselves have no effective legal instruments at their disposal with which to oppose this de facto administrative lawlessness.

Election campaigning. Reports on the use of administrative resources for campaigning purposes came from a wide range of regions and referred to elections on various levels.

Officials, state, and municipal employees, as well as employees of budget organizations took an active role in campaigning and mobilizing events in the interest of administrative candidates and nominees from the “United Russia” party. Public events organized by state or municipal authorities and financed by budgetary funds were widely used for conducting election campaigning. This was especially the case in the elections of the heads of regions.

Traditionally, a characteristic feature of the gubernatorial (heads of regions) elections are the ceremonial and “official” activities of the acting heads of regions, which tend to increase in frequency during the campaign, as well as the associated covert campaigning in the media under the guise of informing citizens about the official or public activities of administrative candidates. These circumstances and conditions violate the principle of equality of election participants: competitors of acting heads have no opportunity for equal access to informational resources, and hence to voters.

Although, with the exception of a few regions, campaigning activities, especially in the form of visual campaigning in the streets, were rare in the September 10 elections, there were still cases of obstruction of campaign activities of some candidates and parties. They happened at different elections and took forms such as creating difficulties and obstacles in conducting campaigning events; destroying and damaging campaign materials; putting administrative pressure on candidates; and using “black PR” (activities aimed at destroying someone’s reputation). Reports of damage and destruction of campaign materials mainly came from municipal election campaigns and increased noticeably a week before Election Day, especially in Moscow.

Administrative electoral technologies. The week before Election Day was marked by several scandals related to early voting in municipal elections in the Altai Territory (Barnaul) and Primorsky Territory (Vladivostok, Nakhodka), as well as in Moscow and the Leningrad Region (Kuzmolovskoye).

In the Altai Territory, early voting took place in the elections of the deputies of the Barnaul Municipal Duma, with anomalously high indicators of voter participation, making it possible to conclude that an administrative inflation of turnout numbers was aimed at distorting the election results. In the Primorsky Territory, during the election of deputies to the city duma of Vladivostok and Nakhodka, there were cases of centrally organized transportation of voters to voting stations, and of voter bribery in the early voting stage. Similarly to the Altai and Primorye elections – and with similar scandals – early voting was held in the Kuzmolovsky township in the Leningrad Region.

In Moscow, on the contrary, during the elections in municipal districts, the territorial commissions massively rejected voters’ attempts to exercise their right to vote early with a valid reason. Unprecedented and illegal demands to provide supporting documents in the absence of signs of involuntary voting prevented many voters from voting early. Often the actions of members of election commissions towards voters who came to vote early were extremely disrespectful. In addition, the process of informing the voters about municipal elections in Moscow, which is the responsibility of election commissions, was vastly insufficient.

The introduction of a new voting procedure for voters at their current location should be recognized as a positive development. A significant number of voters in 20 regions (245,000, or 1% of the total number of voters in these regions) were able to use this mechanism. This applies, first of all, to voters registered in rural settlements but actually living in the cities, mainly in regional centers.

At the same time, the organization of this process was far from smooth, and did not receive the appropriate degree of publicity.

For example, in a number of regions (specifically, in Republic of Mari El, Republic of Mordovia, Kirov, Sverdlovsk, and Yaroslavl regions), a high proportion of voters applied for this procedure in the five days prior to Election Day (special applications with the stamp). Only 20-26% of voters who submitted such applications did so five or more days before Election Day (which is to say that 75-80% submitted them four day or less before Election Day). This indicates at least a lack of explanatory work on behalf on election organizers.

From the Saratov region came reports of citizens with five special applications with stamps who were instructed to vote at five different polling stations. One report about the possibility of a double vote came from the Ryazan region.

Over the course of the entire period of filing applications for voting at the voter’s current location (i.e. since July 26, 2017), neither the CEC of Russia nor the election commissions of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation provided detailed information on the development of this process. The CEC only issued information on the break-down of such voting in the regions on August 30.

Data on voters who submitted applications five or more days before Election Day were published by the CEC only on the evening of September 8 (in the Sakhalin region, it was already September 9 at the time), thereby preventing election participants from analyzing them in advance and using them in the monitoring process. In addition, this data was published in a format that made it extremely difficult to analyze: the data was available only for each polling station, without summary tables and aggregation at higher levels.

At the same time, our analysis shows that practically in all the regions the numbers on the registers for the inclusion of voters in the lists did not match up with the numbers for the exclusion of voters. This indicates that the registry data compilation system is not working smoothly. In addition, from the explanation offered by the CEC, it follows that there are many discrepancies between the addresses of voters indicated in their passports and their addresses in the voter register. This means that the voter register contains numerous inaccuracies, and that their elimination should be made a priority (taking into account, among other things, that this register is used to verify signatures of voters submitted by candidates).

Data on voters who submitted applications less than five days prior to Election Day was published fairly promptly – on the morning of September 10. The data was also published for each polling station, but, unlike previous data, the total number of such voters by region was also published. However, the sum for all the regions turned out to be 19,427, whereas the CEC chairman on the morning of September 10 announced a different number – 21,928 – with the explanation that this is the most recent data. Nevertheless, the data posted on the portal “Vybory” throughout the day on September 10 had not been adjusted.

We believe that the lack of publicity and inconsistencies within the final data substantially reduce the level of citizens’ confidence in the new voting procedure at the current locations.

Election Day also demonstrated that the new voting procedure at the current location through pre-submitted applications provides broad and uncontrolled opportunities for organized mobilization of administratively reliant categories of voters (workers of large enterprises, budget institutions, and others).

Election day

The low turnout observed in these elections was caused in the first place by the low level of competition and by the voters’ distrust towards the election process that had developed over the course of recent years.

Undoubtedly, the policy of intolerance to violations and fraud, which had been publically adopted by the new leadership of the Central Election Commission of Russia, as well as the Committee’s attitude towards observers as allies rather than enemies, had an overall positive effect on the election process. These efforts, along with legislative restrictions on the removal of observers, significantly reduced the number of violations of voters’ rights compared to previous years.

Nevertheless, observations of the September 10 elections suggest that illegal strategies and tactics are still prevalent in certain regions.

From a number of polling stations, we have received reports of documented election rigging: ballot box stuffing and exertion of pressure on voters by their employers or superiors; illegal campaigning; illegal transportation and bribery of voters; violations of the “home” voting procedure; violations of the rights of observers, members of commissions, and representatives of the media; and violations of counting procedures.

On Election Day and during the subsequent period of vote counting, the hotline of the movement “Golos” (8 800 333-33-50) received 1,200 phone calls (and a total of over 1,300 during the entire election campaign period). On Election Day, the “Map of Violations” service received 825 reports of possible violations (with over 1,500 messages received during the whole election campaign period).

The most common messages received on Election Day by the “Map of Violations” pertained to the following infractions:

violation of the “home” voting procedure, illegal voting – 173 calls (21% of the total number of calls)
violation of the rights of observers, commission members, and media representatives – 158 (19%)
violation of the rules for summarizing election results, distortion of election results – 110 (13.3%) (It is important to stress that the percentage of reports on these violations has increased compared to previous years.)
coercion of voters, violation of the secrecy of the vote – 102 (12.3%) (The share of reports on such violations compared to previous years has also increased.)
illegal campaigning – 94 (11.4%)
violation of polling station design – 58 (7%) (Compared to the previous years, there were significantly fewer complaints from observers regarding the design of polling stations.)
non-inclusion in voter lists, failure to grant voting rights – 19 (2.35%).

Information on criminal violations – 32 messages in total, including ballot stuffing (with varying degrees of detail) – came from 10 regions. We should pay particular attention to the investigation of incidents in two regions, the Krasnodar Territory and the Saratov Region, where the largest number of ballot stuffing reports originated. Reports of various procedural irregularities, including instances of voting taking place outside designated voting premises, came from 33 regions.

Complaints about the (organized) transport of groups of voters to polling stations came from 10 regions. There is reason to doubt the voluntary participation of these voters.

Illegal campaigning on Election Day was observed in 26 regions, and reports on voter bribery came from 15 regions. We are particularly concerned about a large-scale “lottery” for voters in the Sverdlovsk region, which included prizes such as apartments, cars, and other valuable objects. There is evidence that the lottery coupons were handed out directly at the polling stations.

The number of violations related to the refusal of admission to observers at polling stations, and instances of their illegal removal from the premises, are down from previous years. At the same time, we should note that, whereas earlier such violations most often happened during the first half of Election Day, when the rights of observers were violated at the stage of their non-admission to polling stations, now such violations occur more frequently in the later stages of the voting process and during vote counting.

Vote counting violations were reported at polling stations in 21 regions, specifically: lack of publicity regarding the count, violation of the vote counting procedure, and restriction of the rights of observers. At the same time, in some areas of Moscow, the procedure of summarizing the results in the Territorial Electoral Commissions was artificially delayed.

Various examples of such violations were reported by “Golos” on Election Day: in three reports (at 12:00 a.m., 6:00 p.m., and 12:00 p.m ), in the election day chronicle, in press releases of the regional offices, and on the “Map of Violations.”

Preliminary recommendations

Observations by the “Golos” movement of the September 10 elections on Single Election Day – including long-term observation (during the entire election campaign) and short-term observation (on Election Day itself) – warrant us to issue the following preliminary recommendations.

To the federal legislator (the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the President of the Russian Federation):

Protect electoral legislation from manipulation in the interest of the ruling party and of individual subjects of the political process. In making changes to electoral legislation, first ensure the principle of equality of election participants as well as of the interests of the voters.
Introduce amendments to electoral legislation that ensure real competition in elections at all levels; in particular, restore the possibility of registering candidates and party lists on the basis of electoral pledge, reform the voter signature registration system, and cancel or significantly reform the deputy signature registration system (the so-called “municipal filter”).
Create necessary conditions for public observation at elections, and legislatively establish the institution of election observation by public associations.
Reform the system of forming election commissions: exclude the participation of executive officials in election commissions. Increase to two thirds the proportion of members of election commissions nominated by political (and not only parliamentary) parties, and establish an order in which priority is given to parties more dependent on voter support. Carry out the reform of election commissions in the city of Moscow.
Increase the fine for administrative offenses related to the violation of the rights of observers and members of election commissions. Simplify the procedure for appointing observers to polling stations.
Oblige heads of regions and municipalities that are candidates for elections to go on vacation for the period of the election campaign.
Completely exclude any possibility of using public events organized at the expense of budgetary funds and/or with the participation of officials performing their official duties for the purpose of election campaigning of individual candidates and parties.
Introduce amendments to Russian electoral legislation that close the gap for financing election funds from companies that have foreign owners or belong to the state of the Russian Federation, constituent entities of the Federation, or municipalities.
Improve the procedure for provision, financial reporting, and monitoring of political consulting services to candidates and parties in order to increase their transparency.

To election commissions:

Ensure a completely independent, collegial, open, and transparent decision-making process, as required by current electoral legislation.
Do not implement recommendations and informal instructions that do not comply with current electoral legislation.
Ensure greater protection of commission members in the event of their prosecution for refusing to commit unlawful acts.
Eliminate any element of arbitrariness and selectivity in the decision making process.
Ensure the equality of all candidates and parties in the nomination, collection, and verification of signatures and registration, as well as in the conduct of election campaigning and other electoral activities.
Create the most favorable conditions possible for equal access of candidates and parties to the media.
Develop a set of measures to identify and suppress indirect campaigning, carried out under the guise of informing the public about the official activities of a candidate.
Tighten control over campaigning activities not financed from official electoral funds, such as by using administrative resources and obtaining unequal access to the media.
When publishing data on legal entities, disclose information about the ultimate owners of the companies, including those of closed joint-stock companies.
When publishing information on the sources of election fund financing, indicate the TIN of the relevant legal entity.
(To the CEC of Russia:) Ensure compliance of election commissions with the legal procedure for counting votes and summarizing election results.

To candidates and political parties:

Stick to the principles and methods of fair competition in election campaigns.
Do not resort to using the help of an “administrative resource.”

To the mass media:

Ensure equal opportunity for all candidates and parties to access print space, airtime, and network resources.
Ensure objectivity and equality of candidates and parties in election coverage.
Abstain from publishing custom-made campaigning materials of a negative nature.

To judicial and law enforcement bodies:

Take real measures to identify and punish patrons and organizers of crimes committed by members of election commissions and associated with the falsification of voting and election results.
Investigate violations and crimes more thoroughly, based on evidence and equality of testimony.
Prevent election offenses related to taking advantage of official positions.
Tighten control over campaign activities not financed from election funds, such as by using administrative resources and obtaining disproportionate access to the media.
Prevent various actions that impede the legitimate campaign activities of candidates and electoral associations.
Do not follow politically motivated instructions.

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