Golos on Duma Elections: far from being free and fair
On September 18, 2016, Russia held more than 5,000 elections, including elections of deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, elections of heads of seven regions, 39 elections of deputies of regional parliaments, elections of representative bodies of 11 regional capitals, and other local elections. Public monitoring of the voting procedures, vote counting at polling stations, and tabulation at higher-lever election commissions took place in 40 regions.
Considering that, regardless of this year’s reduced coverage of polling stations by independent observers, there were still reports of individual acts of ballot box stuffing, “carousel voting,” voting under pressure, and other irregularities, it is evident that these strategies have not been rooted out and are still widely used. However, the September 18 election day was different from the 2011 elections in that there were fewer violations of observer rights (removal from polling stations, restriction of movement at polling stations, bans on making videos and taking pictures) and in that the Central Election Commission (CEC) took quick and principled action in response to these violations. This, however, did not suffice to overcome feelings of distrust and apathy among voters, caused by violations and shortcomings earlier in the election campaign. Overall, the elections of deputies of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation of the seventh convocation are far from being truly free and fair.
In the years since the 2011 elections, the authorities have taken various steps to mitigate and minimize public control over the elections. These steps include the forced inclusion of five “Golos” organizations in the register of the so-called “foreign agents”; the introduction of the 2014 discriminatory amendments to the legislation prohibiting electionobservation by organizations with this status; the ban on foreign funding; obstruction of access to polling stations for observers and the media; persecution of “Golos” organizations and their employees by law enforcement and tax authorities; and information attacks in the federal media. Thanks to the leadership of the CEC in the past six months, the attitude towards public observers and independent experts began to change, but the pressure from the other state organs on “Golos” remained in place.
In 2016, there were half as many independent observers on election day than in 2011.
Observation results from September 18 show widespread use of illegal techniques on election day, although on a somewhat smaller scale than in 2011.
At some polling stations there were direct violations of voting procedures: ballot box stuffing and “cruise voting”; violations associated with pressure exerted by the authorities on voters; illegal campaigning; transportation of voters; violation of observers’ rights as well as rights of commission members and representatives of the media; and violation of counting procedures.
The hotline of the “Golos” movement (8 800 333-33-50) and the service “Map of violations” (www.kartanarushaniy.org) received 1,798 reports of possible violations. These messages were forwarded to the Central Election Commission.
Among the most common reports of violations on election day were: violations of absentee voting protocol, violations of “at home” voting protocol, or illegal voting (342 reports); procedural errors (400); violations of observer’s rights, rights of commission members, and rights of representatives of the media (290); illegal campaigning (181); violation of tabulation rules or distortion of voting results (162); violations in the design of polling stations (138); non-inclusion of voters in voter lists or denial of their right to vote (134); coercion of voters or breach of the secrecy of the vote (109).
There were reports of ballot stuffing from a number of polling stations in Moscow, Rostov region, Moscow region, Stavropol territory, Voronezh region, Republic of Bashkortostan, Samara region, Kostroma region, Republic of Tatarstan, Krasnoyarsk territory, Ryazan region, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad region, Saratov region, Chelyabinsk region, and Republic of Dagestan.
Ballot stuffing in Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, and Krasnoyarsk region were captured on the official live video stream from the polling stations.
Reports of “carousel voting” came mainly from the Altai region and Moscow.
Mass voting with absentee ballots was observed in Moscow. Buses were used to transport voters from one polling station to another. From 70 polling stations came complaints about arrivals of large groups of voters. Even during the election campaign, voters complained of coercion by employers to obtain absentee ballots. There is reason to doubt the voluntary participation of those voters in the elections.
There were reports of cases of illegal campaigning from some regions, particularly from Moscow, Moscow region, and Sverdlovsk region.
In contrast to the 2011 elections, the number of violations related to the (non-)admission of participants into the surveillance areas decreased dramatically. Similarly,the 2016 elections witnessed a decline in the number of cases of illegal removal of participants from polling stations.
At a number of polling stations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Moscow region, and Saratov, there were cases of artificial delays of the vote counting process, the signing of final protocols, and the issuing of copies of protocols.
On election day, “Golos” reported numerous instances of such violations via various publications, the chronicle of the voting day, press releases from regional offices, videos from the call center, and the “Map of violations.”
For more details please see here (Russian)