CSO of the Week: The Smart Voting Project

Week-ending 10 September 2021

On 6 September 2021 the Russian authorities blocked a website that promotes Smart Voting – “умное голосование” – a project organised by those who support the voting strategy advocated by Aleksei Navalny. Smart Voting was developed to work in the following manner: in each electoral district, the Smart Voting project chooses the candidate it thinks has the greatest likelihood to defeat the candidate from United Russia. This recommendation is publicised on the eve of the voting and voters are encouraged to follow the recommendation. The intention is to maximise the potential for opposition candidates to defeat those from the ruling party. As The Moscow Times reported, the state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said access to the website https://votesmart.appspot.com had been blocked in Russia “because it is being used to continue the work… of an extremist organization.”

Sources on the elections and related news:

RFE/RL, 5 September 2021: With just weeks to go before nationwide elections to choose a new lower house of parliament, authorities have stepped up a crackdown on anything connected to Smart Voting.

The Moscow Times, 6 September 2021: Russian authorities have blocked a website that promotes jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s anti-ruling party voting strategy in this month’s parliamentary elections.

The Guardian, 6 September 2021: Russian opposition politicians are used to finding spoiler candidates with identical surnames running against them in order to confuse voters at the polls. Now it appears that the impersonators are changing their faces as well.

RSF, 6 September 2021: The Russian embassy in France has reacted to a report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Internet censorship in Russia by accusing RSF of bias but, amazingly, in the course of so doing, it has referred to a Russian foreign ministry report on human rights violations in other countries that quotes RSF extensively (and selectively).

The Moscow Times, 6 September 2021: Western media news websites are being hijacked by pro-Russian trolls to spread propaganda and disinformation supporting the Kremlin, according to research published by a British university on Monday.

RFE/RL, 7 September 2021: A court in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has extended the pretrial detention of blogger Yury Khovansky, who is charged with terrorism over a song he wrote mocking government efforts to resolve the deadly 2002 hostage-taking incident at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater.

RFE/RL, 7 September 2021: Navalny’s bid to scupper United Russia’s continued dominance has now received another blow: in the Krasnodar region in Russia’s south, a local company has launched a website for a political project with suspiciously similar branding and a very similar name: Rational Voting, which in Russian is close to identical (razumnoye golosovaniye instead of umnoye golosovaniye).

RFE/RL, 7 September 2021: Through an unrelenting campaign of intimidation and criminal prosecutions the authorities have purged the electoral field of all but a select few government critics, and much of the country’s beleaguered opposition movement has largely resigned itself to defeat. 

The Moscow Times, 8 September 2021: Russian media published an audio leak Tuesday that they say shows a ruling pro-Kremlin party official instructing poll watchers to ignore voter fraud at the upcoming election.

The Moscow Times, 8 September 2021: As Russia gears up to elect its national parliament, The Moscow Times spoke with seven state employees across the country who said they have been asked — and sometimes pressured — by their employers to vote online in elections seen as a crucial test of the ruling United Russia party’s grip on power.

RFE/RL, 8 September 2021: Russian military personnel in three settlements of the northwestern Murmansk region were gathered on September 7 to cast ballots early in Russia’s September 17-19 legislative elections, according to a report in Novaya gazeta the same day.

RFE/RL, 8 September 2021: Internet giant YouTube has blocked RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Russia’s Dozhd television from using a clip from an August 30 election debate shown on Russian state television in which candidate Maksim Shevchenko called for the release from prison of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and other “political prisoners.”

The Moscow Times, 9 September 2021: […] the Vote Abroad initiative, a decentralized, grassroots movement organized online across more than 40 countries in response to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, that will inform Russian citizens abroad of voting procedures and organize poll watching.

The Moscow Times, 10 September 2021: Veteran Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina has been sentenced to one year of “restricted freedom” for promoting January protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the Apologia of Protest legal aid group reported Friday.  

The Moscow Times, 10 September 2021: A Russian court has sentenced a self-described anarchist couple to prison for hanging a banner likening the country’s security services to terrorists, human rights activist and lawyer Pavel Chikov tweeted Friday.  

The Moscow Times, 10 September 2021: Russia’s parliamentary elections next week are set to be some of the least competitive in years after a number of independent and opposition candidates were barred from running.

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