Grigory Melkonyants: Key findings from the Golos Report on the results of the Single Day of Voting 2020

15 October 2020

By Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the Golos movement

For the full text of the original article, see here

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Facebook]

1. The transition to mass three-day voting did not lead to an increase in voter turnout. At the same time, large-scale multi-day voting significantly limited the ability of the public to ensure the honesty of voting and vote-counting. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the turnout remained at the same level as in the previous elections to various regional and local government authorities. Some isolated exceptions are mainly associated with the gubernatorial elections which, on the one hand, were helped by the absence of real competition, and on the other were accompanied by massive administrative coercion and artificially stimulated mobilisation of the electorate, by the violation of observers’ rights and signs of large-scale falsification. Thus, forms of voting “more convenient for voters” do not lead to an increase in voters’ activity. “Convenience” remains discernible only in the polls of sociological data companies, and does not manifest in the form of increased electoral participation.

2. At the same time, the “new forms” of voting have significantly reduced the possibilities for public oversight of the work of election commissions, and made it much more resource-intensive. The number of observers that are now needed for effective oversight has increased by at least 3-4 times (and even more, taking into account the fact that early voting is accompanied by massive voting outside the premises of the Precinct Election Commissions. At the same time, in almost all regions, a higher turnout in early voting correlates with higher results of the incumbent or United Russia, which is the basis for additional suspicions of manipulation during early voting. Without giving an increase in voter turnout, three-day voting, like remote electronic voting, significantly reduced confidence in the election results. The Central Election Commission of Russia got carried away (or is simply hiding behind) formal convenience at the expense of the reliability of the results.

3. The data from statistical analysis of the election results, and the signs of falsification recorded by observers at the polling stations, make it possible to question the results of the gubernatorial elections in the Krasnodar, Penza, Rostov, Smolensk and Tambov regions. The course of the remaining gubernatorial election campaigns does not allow them to be called free, honest and equal either.

4. The main problems on voting days were violations related to the procedure for early voting (violation of the rules for storing ballots from early voting, refusals to provide information on the number of voters and to familiarize themselves with early voting laws, violation of the integrity of packages kept in safes, untimely drawing up of these laws, violations during voting outside the voting premises (mass entry of voters into the corresponding register against their will), violations during vote counting (simultaneous counting of votes in several batches of ballots, non-public counting of votes, simultaneous implementation of several stages of vote counting, failure to hold a final meeting of the precinct commission).

5. The progress in relations between election commissions and independent observers, which was achieved over the previous four years of the current membership of the Central Election Commission, was wiped out this time around. Once again, one of the most widespread types of violation were violations of the rights of commission members, observers and representatives of the media, artificial delays in the consideration of complaints and appeals (and sometimes refusal to accept them altogether), and refusal to provide commission documents for review. Violations of some procedures were recorded in twenty percent of precinct election commissions where research was conducted. It is safe to assume that these violations are even more common in commissions where there were no observers. In our opinion, these problems are down to the weakening of the control of the Central Election Commission of Russia over election commissions. Multiple cases were seen where third parties interfered in the activities of the commissions. In addition, the complication of the work of election commission members due to the emergency introduction of new, poorly regulated, forms of voting, and the lack of appropriate training played a role. All this led to an increase in anger and aggression against those who recorded deviations from the procedures established by law.

6. In addition, there exists a policy of constant psychological and actual pressure on active citizens that has been created and is supported at the federal level. Unfortunately, the Russian Central Election Commission is now significantly involved. And at the same time the atmosphere of harassment and fomentation of hatred is not entirely in the control of those who created it — it is being used locally to settle old scores. Among those subjected to pressure from law enforcement agencies during the recent elections were various participants in the electoral process, including members of commissions, observers, candidates, and employees at candidate headquarters. This pressure discredits elections and undermines confidence in results. The most lamentable outcome of this pressure was the tragic death of Irina Slavina in Nizhny Novgorod.

7. In these elections, “three-day” voting took place only rarely in the courtyards of apartment buildings. However, it appears that a significant number of those who voted early cast their votes at their workplace or place of study. For this to happen, three forms of voting that traditionally evoke criticism from observers and experts were combined: early voting, voting outside of polling stations, and voting “by current location” (the use of “mobile” voting systems). These three methods of voting are typically criticized for their lack of transparency and their susceptibility to voter coercion. The Golos Movement considers the holding of voting procedures at workplaces during working hours, and in places of study, as fundamentally inadmissible. After all, the law forbids even the gathering of signatures for candidate nominations at the workplace, since this creates conditions for administrative pressure regarding voter participation in elections. Voting at secure facilities warrants a mention in particular, where the policy of openness and transparency when organizing elections comes head to head with the security procedures at these facilities.

8. The general public currently have no reason to trust the system of remote electronic voting proposed by Russia’s Central Elections Commission, which ended up being even more opaque than the “Moscow” system. Those designing the system have not created the conditions to guarantee that it meets the standards of free and fair elections. Their approach does not ensure that votes are counted fairly, and electronic voting creates ample opportunities for voter coercion and violation of ballot secrecy. At the same time, the percentage of votes cast remotely, where the experiment was conducted, was high. In Kursk region, 6.6% of voters voted electronically, and 14.2% did so in Yaroslavl region. While the results of votes cast via the remote electronic system in Kursk were similar to the overall election results, there was a noticeable difference in Yaroslavl region: the winner of the election, A. N. Kovalenko, received 40.3% of all votes but 51.7% of electronic remote votes.

9. The elections for regional leaders in 2020 followed the same trends as previous years (with the exception of 2018). Almost none of the campaigns were competitive. In 10 campaigns out of 18, the winner received more than 75% of votes. In 14 campaigns, more than 50 percentage points separated the winner and their main opponent. The effective number of candidates (ENC) was less than 2 for 14 campaigns (the minimum possible ENC is 1). Least competitive was the election of the governor of Sevastopol: the gap between the winner and their opponent was 80.8%, and the ENC was 1.29. The faintest trace of a competition was only observed in Irkutsk, Kostroma, Rostov, and Smolensk regions.

10. On the other hand, elections for regional assemblies in most regions have proved to be quite competitive. Only in four regions did four parties get through to the assembly, one party in five regions, six parties in five regions and seven parties in Ryazan region. In those regions where four parties (Belgorodskaya, Voronezh, Magadan region and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District) the effective number of parties (ENP) proved to be between 2 and 3. The most competitive, with more than five effective candidates, were the  elections in the Republic of Komi and  the Kostroma region. The picture is similar with regard to the elections to the representative bodies of those regional centres  operating a hybrid system. Among such regions, the elections in Kazan were the least competitive, while the most competitive were in Kaluga and Tomsk (with an ENP more than five).

11. At the same time, the official results of the voting are only partially reflected in the distribution of mandates. In a number of regions and cities, the difference between the share of votes received by the leading party and the total share of the seats which it won exceeded 30% – as a result, a so-called “fabricated majority” was formed: a party, which was voted for by less than half of the electorate, received more than half of the seats. This situation has occurred in seven regions out of eleven and in ten regional centres out of fourteen (this does not include Rostov-on-Don, where United Russia won 49.9%). This was done by a large number of mandates being distributed through the majority system, which gives the leading party a bonus in the form of a significant excess of the proportion of seats which  it receives over the share of votes received, and the small proportion of mandates distributed under the proportional system.

12. Although candidates from previously absent political forces (or from newly registered parties) have got on to many representative bodies, it can be said that a large proportion of the electorate has no representation. In this regard , Kaluga is a case in point. The parties here which got through to the city Duma received a very low proportion of the relative amount of votes due to the presence of  the option “against all” on the ballot papers. Here, 6.4 percent of the voters who took part in the elections voted “against all,” and another 4.7 percent cast invalid ballots. The loss of votes from parties that did not overcome the bar was 8.6%. This goes to prove that, where the possibility of voting “against all” is enabled, a significant part of the electorate takes advantage of that opportunity. One of the main motives for such a vote is dissatisfaction with the limited choice available.

13. Despite these problems, the Single Day of Voting has shown that mass and effective monitoring can have a significant impact on the situation by preventing election fraud. In many cases, the polling stations which were monitored by committed and trained observers showed polling results differing significantly from those in neighbouring territories where there was no such effective election observation.

Translated by Anna Bowles, Nina dePalma and Graham Jones

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