Post-Election

“Let’s defend our victory!” A poster from the campaign of Mikhail Lobanov, who ran for a seat in the Russian parliament in Sunday’s elections, urging voters to gather at the Indira Gandhi monument in Moscow at 7 p.m. on September 23 to discuss the campaign’s plans for contesting the attempt by the authorities to tilt the election in favor of the ruling party’s candidate by “stuffing the ballot boxes” with online votes.

Mikhail Lobanov. Telegram. 22 September 2021

A few days ago, the residents of Moscow’s Western Administrative District (ZAO) elected me as their MP. I know this because I myself stood up for every single vote over several nights and saw the tallies for each polling station. I am also grateful to everyone who supported me by voting electronically. And yet the remote electronic voting system has proven to be another tool in the hands of the fraudsters: they used it to steal the victory from us.

Therefore, I call on all residents of Dorogomilovo, Krylatskoye, Kuntsevo, Mozhaysksky, Vernadsky Avenue, Ramenki, Filyovsky Park and Fili-Davydkovo to come to a people’s meeting and together demand that the remote electronic voting results be annulled. Let’s show [the authorities] that the residents of the Western Administrative District cannot be deceived just like that.

In recent days, a new political force has emerged in the west of Moscow, and we are not going away. Now our team is preparing a complaint to the Central Elections Commission and a petition to the court. We have big plans, and we especially need your support now.

Tomorrow, September 23, at 7:00 p.m., at the monument to Indira Gandhi (Lomonosovsky Prospekt subway station).

https://fb.me/e/PNn1N9ma

A screen shot of the homepage of Russia’s remote electronic voting system (DEG)

Alexander Skobov
Facebook
September 21, 2021

The most lethal proof of the falsification of electronic voting in Moscow is not even the eighty thousand “extra” votes compared to the issued ballots. That was pure ballot stuffing, despite the historian Alexei Venediktov’s swearing up and down that the system was reliably protected from ballot stuffing. But another figure is even more deadly: the 700,000 people who revised their vote, which is a third of all those who voted electronically. Who are these people?

How many of them are weirdos who didn’t know who to vote for until the last moment and changed their decision three times a day? Maybe they are restless souls who struggled with the painful choice between the “party of power” and the opposition? Or the even more painful choice between the Stalinist Communist Party and the unelectable Yabloko? Don’t you think it’s funny?

The vast majority of these 700,000 people were people who voted “under guidance” for the first time and were not afraid to redo their vote. I think it would not be too bold to assume that for every one of them who was not afraid, there was at least one voter who was afraid, who did not believe in the anonymity of their vote. Yes, the electronic voting system in Moscow (the pride of the historian Venediktov) works perfectly — as a powerful tool for administrative and corporate coerced voting.

We can conclude that coerced voting is becoming the main form of electoral fraud in the era of late Putinism. And that the society practically does nothing to resist it. It has finally become the norm. It is an important element of the neo-totalitarian transformation.

The remote electronic system’s website shows that over 71,000 more “voters” voted online in Moscow than were issued electronic ballots.

Statisticians Claim Half of Pro-Kremlin Votes in Duma Elections Were False
Jake Cordell
Moscow Times
September 21, 2021

Half of all the votes cast for the ruling party in Russia’s parliamentary elections were likely fraudulent, according to analysis by independent statisticians.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party won a landslide victory in Russia’s State Duma elections over the weekend, securing 324 of the lower chamber’s 450 seats — a supermajority that allows them to enact changes to the constitution.

Russia’s opposition has alleged massive election fraud, and videos flooded social media during the vote showing apparent ballot stuffing. Questions have also been raised over a significant delay in the publication of online voting results in the capital Moscow, which eventually overhauled the voting leads secured in the offline vote by opposition candidates.

Independent data scientists and analysts said Tuesday that half of all the votes attributed to United Russia in the official results were probably fake — a level of falsification previously unseen in Russian parliamentary elections.

Prominent physicist Sergei Shpilkin, who has become well-known for his post-election data analysis of possible fraud, estimated on Tuesday that genuine support for United Russia was around 31-33%, while actual nationwide turnout was probably 38%. That compares with official results that saw United Russia score 50% on an official turnout of 52% — suggesting that around 14 million of United Russia’s official votes were fraudulent.

The analysis is based on analyzing results across Russia’s 97,000 individual polling stations to find anomalies and outliers that hint at possible falsification. Statisticians focus on the host of polling stations that recorded high turnout and high vote shares for United Russia — a strong correlation that hints at ballot stuffing.

Because it is believed that falsification does not happen in every polling station, Shpilkin is able to identify the “core” level of support for United Russia and turnout from these “honest” locations. This is then compared with the outliers and polling stations that show high turnout and strong pro-Kremlin votes to estimate the number of votes that were likely falsified on a national scale.

Opinion polls before the election showed nationwide support for the ruling party were at historic lows of below 30%.

Other independent statisticians and election monitors have reached similar conclusions in the wake of the vote, which the opposition has called one of the most fraudulent in Russia’s history.

Alexei Kouprianov, a biologist and big data analyst, also estimated that real support for United Russia was around 30%, not the 50% recorded in the official results.

“The analysis shows that the level of falsification in 2021 was enormous,” he wrote on Facebook. “It is clear from the honest polling stations that support for United Russia is falling and that the Communist Party is growing.”

Data scientist Boris Ovchinnikov said that Shpilkin’s estimate that 50% of United Russia’s votes were falsified should be seen as the “lowest estimate.”

“Deeper analysis could result in a higher estimate for the share of falsification,” he said.

The election monitoring Golos organization, which was banned from observing the elections shortly before the vote, also estimated that around a third of the official votes were fraudulent — a figure which tallies with half, or more, of United Russia’s votes being false.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed the “competitiveness, openness and honesty” of the elections, saying it was clear that “United Russia is the main preference of the voters.”

Alexei Venediktov. Photo: Andrei Nikerichev (Moskva News Agency), courtesy of the Moscow Times

Moscow To Check Electronic Votes for State Duma in Recount
Moscow Times
September 22, 2021

Moscow will conduct a recount of disputed electronic votes for seats in Russia’s lower house of parliament that will have no legal force, the head of the Moscow election observation headquarters Alexei Venediktov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency on Wednesday.

“Everyone is asking about the technical group’s recount of the votes, this, of course, is not a legal recount, this is a reconciliation in order to confirm suspicions or not confirm suspicions that it was counted incorrectly,” RIA quoted Venediktov as saying.

Russia’s opposition raised questions over the legitimacy of the results of the elections after the pro-Kremlin United Russia party won a landslide victory and took every district in Moscow.

E-voting results reversed early leads secured in the offline vote by opposition candidates and Kremlin-endorsed candidates saw huge swings in their favour and won every district after online votes were tallied.

Independent data scientists and analysts said that half of all the votes attributed to United Russia in the official results were probably fake — a level of falsification previously unseen in Russian parliamentary elections.

Questions have also been raised over a significant delay in the publication of online voting results.

Venediktov, managing editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, has come under fire for his overseeing and promotion of e-voting in Moscow.

“Former journalist Venediktov is a criminal and should be in the dock for his participation in electoral fraud,” allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny tweeted from his account.

The first two texts were translated by the Russian Reader.

Grigorii Golosov: Dissecting Dead Elections

What to Expect from Dead Elections
Grigorii Golosov
Proekt
June 7, 2021

In journalism, there is the well-worn cliché of “dissecting elections.” This is when experts explain to the general public how the electoral system works, how election campaigns are run, and how votes are tallied. In a democracy, this knowledge is ordinarily not in high demand, because voters, as a rule, don’t care about such subtleties. People who go to the polling stations have preferences and emotions that they express by voting. The fine points matter a narrow stratum of politicized intellectuals. Rank-and-file voters regard elections respectfully, as one of the foundations of the democratic state, which they value, but they are not keen about its anatomical details.

Under authoritarianism, it would seem that elections merit no interest at all. After all, they don’t make it possible to change the government, let alone influence it in any tangible way. Their impact on the make-up of representative political bodies is insignificant, and on politics, negligible.

They are dead elections. And yet they are anything but inconspicuous.

On the contrary, the most high-profile events of recent months in Russia have been related to elections indirectly (like the crackdown on opposition organizations and activists) or directly (like United Russia’s so-called primaries). They have gone unremarked only by people who have completely isolated themselves from the daily grind of the Russian state and the propaganda servicing it. This is, of course, quite a healthy thing to do, but not everyone has the luxury of doing it.

Naturally, the hype will only increase over the summer, because presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has already promised us a literally red-hot campaign. Indeed, elections — and just such dead elections — are vital to modern authoritarian regimes. Elections perform many useful functions for autocracies. I could list all of them, but it suffices to point out their main function: unless the regime triumphs at the ballot box, it is difficult to explain why the people in government occupy the high-ranking posts they do.

Their power is not warranted by the right of succession, nor by their outstanding personal qualities, nor by their crystal clear vision of the prospects for social development. Naturally, there are other contenders for power, ready to take it simply because they want to. So the common idea that elections will be canceled as unnecessary is mistaken. This means that there is some point in dissecting dead elections, just as there is a point in dissecting dead bodies.

The basic principle of election pathology is simple: dead elections should look like the real thing, but still keep those who already hold power in power, allowing only a minimal rotation of minor figures. In keeping with this principle, authoritarian elections involve four main areas of tampering: (1) voting systems; (2) voter behavior; (3) voter choice; (4) vote counting. Let’s examine each of these areas separately.

In Russia, messing with the electoral system in the narrow sense of the term is a thing of the past. Readers may remember that for a time we had a purely proportional electoral system, in which we could vote only for party lists, not for single candidates. Its introduction was no accident and no matter of good intentions: it was meant to facilitate the emergence of the United Russia party and eradicate independent MPs. However, the 2011 State Duma elections, in which United Russia nearly lost its parliamentary majority, showed that a mixed system was more convenient, so they went back to it.

There is nothing particularly innovative about this. If we do the numbers we see that that mixed systems are more popular among autocracies than among democratic countries. And we know from experience why: even if United Russia fails to gain a parliamentary majority via its party list, it will make it up for it by winning in the single-member districts. It was the single-member districts that gave United Russia a constitutional majority in the current State Duma. We know what the consequences for the Russian Constitution have been. But, admittedly, room for further tweaking of the pathological particulars has mostly been exhausted. Going any further would involve embracing electoral systems in which all semblance of democracy is forfeited.

But there is still room for creativity when it comes to manipulating voters. Take, for example, United Russia’s “primaries.” Many people ask why the powers that be must play this expensive game at all, if it is known in advance and has been repeatedly borne out by experience that, ultimately, only those candidates approved by the Kremlin end up on the party lists. I will answer this question with a question of my own. Is there a better way to test the ability of the regional authorities to get voters to an event that is not even an election, whose meaninglessness is obvious to everyone involved? Primaries are an ideal vehicle for turning out the segment of populace dependent on the authorities and thus doing a practice run before the parliamentary campaign kicks off in earnest.

Turning the dependent populace out to vote has been the primary tool of the authorities in recent years. I should stress that we are talking about a mobilization of voters that can be carried out regardless of a campaign’s particular circumstances and definitely produce the expected result. It’s a myth that people who vote under duress can give the authorities the finger behind their back. These people are forced to go to the polls in order to vote for United Russia and that’s exactly what they do.

Sometimes op-ed writers wonder why, since the authorities are so interested in voter turnout, they don’t introduce mandatory voting, which exists in many (mostly democratic) countries. The electoral forensic pathologist answers this question as follows: because the authorities are not interested in turning out all voters, only those who can be expected to vote “correctly.”

If you drive everyone to the polls, it will irritate the populace. Then, perhaps, the “giving them the finger” scenario could come to pass. No, the authorities have to facilitate the turnout only of the most reliable voters, and these are the voters who are forced to vote a certain way.

When such innovations of recent years as multi-day and electronic voting are discussed, attention is often paid to their role in falsifying the results. However, another thing is equally important. It is much easier to administratively enforce turnout and control the behavior of voters if the vote is held over several days. And we have heard a lot about the effectiveness of using screenshots in electronic voting following the results of United Russia’s “primaries.” Perhaps new tricks will also arrive in time for the September elections. The scope for creativity, I repeat, is still wide.

Manipulating voter choice, of course, mainly involves limiting the number of parties and candidates allowed to stand in elections. The conditions for this were created at the dawn of Russian electoral authoritarianism, in 2004–2006, and have been continuously perfected since then. At first, as you know, the authorities tightened the screws to such an extent that the remaining parties could literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. The 2011 campaign, in which the opposition pursued the “vote for any other party” strategy, showed that this was not the optimal path for the authorities.

There are a lot of registered parties this time round. Among them, there are no truly oppositional parties, completely independent of the authorities, nor can there be. However, careful work is being done to generation the illusion of choice, as exemplified by the comic rebranding of the Communist Party of Social Justice as the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice.

Of course, the “big three” parties (i.e., the LDPR, the CPRF, and a Just Russia) remain the favorites among the “legal opposition.” Even the half-forgotten Just Russia has been patched up for the elections: it has been renamed and strengthened with valuable new personnel. The calculation of the authorities is simple: United Russia’s administrative advantage + propaganda + the scattering of votes among “projects” and spoilers + the refusal of opposition-minded voters to go to the polls = a United Russia majority even on the party-list votes alone.

The problem has come from unexpected quarters: from the single-member districts. Again, the mixed electoral system does generally benefit the authorities. However, it generated an opportunity for so-called smart voting – that is, for strategically choosing to vote for candidates who have a chance of defeating United Russia candidates, rather than trying to elect candidates preferred by opposition voters.

Smart voting is bane to the authorities not only because it can achieve its immediate goal, but also because it encourages opposition voters to turn out for elections. And if they show up, they definitely won’t vote for United Russia on the party list ballots.

Crackdowns have been the main way of solving the problem this year. They enable the authorities to remove potentially strong and at the same time genuinely oppositional candidates from the elections. The efforts of the authorities on this front have been striking and attracted wide attention, but the principal target, in my opinion, is different. Smart voting is a complex strategy that requires organizational infrastructure and systematic guidance. The politicians who are currently targeted by crackdowns are vital not so much as potential candidates — the authorities could have prevented them from running using any number of tried and true methods — but as crucial figures in this infrastructure. The same applies to independent media, as well as (and especially) the few remaining opposition organizations in the political arena. Over the last year, they have been literally torn up by the roots.

Of course, the authorities cannot completely eliminate the threat posed by smart voting. It is a flexible strategy that relies on unconventional methods of political mobilization. Moreover, the impact made by the current scale of crackdowns on public sentiment and on the behavior of voters may go against expectations. In my opinion, hysteria about “foreign agents,” “undesirable organizations,” and other horrors is counterproductive in terms of the regime’s survival, since it erodes its claims to adhere to the democratic principles, driving it into the trap in which Alexander Lukashenko now finds himself. However, the authorities are trying their darndest to do just that, and if they break their own skulls in the process, you cannot blame them for their lack of diligence.

This zeal is fueled not so much by fears of losing, but rather by the well-founded notion that the desired outcome can be achieved only through fraud.

Let’s not harbor any illusions: the outcome will not be honest in any case.

Given the direct disciplinary responsibility of regional governors for getting the “correct” percentages at the ballot box (percentages that are known in advance), Russian elections generate irresistibly strong incentives for skewing the vote count. The federal authorities, in principle, have a stake in ensuring that the scale of the fraud is not off the charts and is not particularly conspicuous. But I don’t think that this is a matter of serious concern to them. Unlike in 2011, there is simply no one capable of recording violations due to the lack of independent monitoring.

The pathology of authoritarian elections is universal. Nothing special is happening in Russia compared to other regimes of this type, from Chad to Singapore. And yet, the current events, especially in terms of pre-election crackdowns, seem a bit too much. However, the cause of the overkill is clear. The parliamentary elections are quite important, but they would hardly be worth the effort if there were not a much more important event happening in 2024. The presidential election will complete the “reset” operation, extending Vladimir Putin’s term in office for at least six (and most likely twelve) years. The authorities must prepare for this in such a way as to completely rule out surprises.Grigorii Golosov is a political scientist, dean of the political science department at the European University in St. Petersburg, and author of the book Autocracy, or the Loneliness of Power. Photo courtesy of Proekt. Translated by the Russian Reader

Is Smart Voting So Smart?

votesmart

Experts Disagree on Effectiveness of Smart Voting: Some Candidates Recommended by Navalny Could Win, But the Strategy Has Split the Opposition
Yelena Mukhametshina and Svetlana Bocharova
Vedomosti
September 4, 2019

On Tuesday, politician Alexei Navalny published on his website a list of candidates running in the elections to the Moscow City Duma, scheduled for this Sunday, September 8, whom he has recommended for “smart” voters. They are invited to visit the website and enter their home address to see the name of the recommended candidate in their voting district.

The list covers all forty-five voting districts in Moscow and includes thirty-three Communist Party candidates, five candidates from A Just Russia, all three Yabloko Party candidates who have been allowed to stand in the elections, and one independent candidate.

In particular, in District 5, where ex-MP Dmitry Gudkov was not allowed to stand, Navalny has recommended voting for Anastasia Udaltsova (Communist Party). In District 37, where the Yabloko candidate, Elena Rusakova, was disqualified, he urged voters to cast their ballots for Nikolai Gubenko (Communist Party), the Moscow City Duma’s incumbent deputy chair. In District 43, where Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, was not allowed to run, he advised people to vote for Yabloko candidate Sergei Mitrokhin. Finally, in District 45, where Ilya Yashin, head of the Krasnoselsky Municipal District Council was disqualified, Navalny has recommended supporting Magomet Yandiyev from A Just Russia.

The smart voting strategy argues that opposition-minded Muscovites should vote in a consolidated manner for the recommended candidates in order to prevent as many covert and overt United Russia party candidates and other pro-regime candidates from being seated in the City Duma as possible. The idea is to seat forty-five different MPs in the City Duma.

As Navalny explained, “Five or six will be okay, one to three will be just great, and the rest won’t be from United Russia, at least.”

All of United Russia’s candidates and candidates supported by the mayor’s office are running as independents in the current elections. As our sources close to the mayor’s office and the party explained to us earlier, this was due to United Russia’s low popularity ratings in the capital.

On Tuesday, TV Rain quoted Valery Rashkin, leader of the Moscow branch of the Communist Party, as saying they intended to welcome Navalny’s call to vote for Communists in most of Moscow’s voting districts. When he was asked how the party’s national leadership would react, Rashkin said the Moscow branch was independent.

Political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko pointed out there were candidates in Navalny’s list who already had a good chance of winning. It was doubtful, he argued, whether Navalny’s recommendations would have a direct, large-scale impact on their vote tallies.

“The number of activists who are willing to respond to Navalny’s recommendations is not great,” Minchenko said.

In addition, there was the question of how to measure the effectiveness of the recommendations since it would be impossible to establish reliably why people voted the way they did, argued Mincheko.

The situation was a delicate one for the Communists, he noted.

“They have been trying to tune Navalny out any way they can,” he said.

Since the Communists were stronger electorally than Navalny, it was more advantageous to him to enlist them as his ad hoc allies.

Minchenko did not expect the regime to crack down on the candidates recommended by Navalny.

Judging by the attention rank-and-file voters have been paying to the current showdown, according to Levada Center polls, smart voting could prove to be the kingmaker in most voting districts, political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued.

“People are wound up, not so much because of the refusal to register opposition candidates, but because of the aggressive actions of the security forces. The percentage of voters who show up to the polls as a way of voicing their protest will be quite high,” he said.

Many of the candidates supported by Navalny were not at loggerheads with the regime, but neither were they “regime people,” Gallyamov added.

“As soon as they feel they have the backing of real voters, especially protest voters, they will quickly become self-sufficient and the authorities will have to negotiate with each of them,” he said.

Smart voting had split the opposition, separating its more radical members from the moderates, noted political scientist Alexei Makarkin.

“The more radical politicians have the same principle: the worse things are, the better. If a Stalinist ends up in the Moscow City Duma, that would be okay, too. In reality, however, such people are usually quickly co-opted by the regime,” he said.

Besides, Makarkin said, Dmitry Gudkov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky had published their own lists of recommended candidates.

“Smart voting has not helped consolidate the opposition. It has generated more conflict among people whose relations were already far from sunny,” he said.

In addition, there were problems with specific candidates recommended by Navalny. For example, his list included Leonid Zyuganov, grandson of regime loyalist and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, said Makarkin.

Navalny’s recommendations would not do the Communist Party any harm, nor did Makarkin anticipate crackdowns against the party members on his list.

Image courtesy of Back in River City. Translated by the Russian Reader