Abstracts from the presentation at the session "Principles of
and observation over resolution of electoral disputes"
of the OSCE ODIHR seminar on observation
of elections and resolution of electoral disputes
in Vienna on 1 October 2019
Elections of different levels in the Russian Federation are held annually on a single voting day. The CEC of Russia is actively introducing various innovations into electoral processes in order to increase their transparency, create more comfortable conditions for various participants of these processes and increase voter activity.
In this context, we have read with interest the newly published ODIHR Handbook for the Observation of Election Dispute Resolution. This handbook is a timely and useful document.
On 8 September 2019 the regular single voting day took place in Russia. In 85 regions of the Russian Federation about six thousand elections of different levels, including Federal, took place. More than 118 thousand candidates were nominated for elections at all levels. More than 105.5 thousand candidates were included in the ballots. Only 6% of candidates were denied registration. Another 5 % are those who did not submit documents for registration or refused to participate in the campaign based on a personal application or dropped out for other reasons. On average, 9 candidates contested one mandate in the by-elections of deputies of the State Duma, 5 candidates - in the elections of senior officials, and 8 candidates per mandate in the elections of deputies of regional parliaments.
I would like to illustrate an important point with an example of the recent elections in Russia on 8 September 2019.
About 232 thousand observers, members of election commissions with the right of consultative vote and representatives of mass media were present at the polling stations during the elections.
In the course of organizing the preparation and conduct of elections on a single voting day, the CEC of Russia received 3 519 appeals from participants of the electoral process. Almost all of them concerned regional and municipal elections.
Every participant of the electoral process, and even an ordinary person, had the opportunity to appeal against violations, file an appeal, and write a complaint.
There is a strong belief in the CEC of Russia that the objective consideration of complaints certainly increases the credibility of the elections. Therefore, we pay great attention to ensuring that no violation goes unpunished. Moreover, we have a tool that allows us to identify violations - almost all polling stations are equipped with video cameras.
The CEC of Russia is constantly searching for new technological solutions that will optimize electoral procedures for citizens and provide additional opportunities for the exercise of electoral rights. These innovations were demonstrated to the participants of the international conference "Digitalization of electoral processes: Humanitarian Dimension" held in Moscow on 6-8 September 2019. Our guests were representing the electoral bodies of 35 countries and 7 international organizations, including the OSCE. Our innovations were met with great interest.
During the last election campaign, there were fewer confirmed violations, and more appeals to the CEC of Russia than before. The results of voting in 15 precincts in six regions have been completely canceled. Cancellation of results is connected with violations during counting of votes of voters and establishment of results of voting which do not allow defining with reliability the will of voters.
I would like to say a few words about the elections to the Moscow city Duma, which attracted so much media noise, especially in the Western media. A total of 234 candidates were registered in 45 districts in this election, and some candidates were denied registration.
During last elections to the Moscow city Duma in 2014, 111 candidates were not registered. Then and now we refused registration both to those who are loyal to the government, and those who are in the opposition — everyone has the same requirements.
And what was the real reason for the denial of registration?
Among the main reasons for refusal were insufficient number of reliable signatures, lack of information on estate liabilities outside the territory of the Russian Federation and the use of advantages of the status of the official. During consideration of complaints it became clear that half of the ten self-nominees not only submitted questionable signatures, but also allowed violations in certificates on foreign property. This requirement covers candidates, their spouses and minor children and is contained in the decree of the President of the Russian Federation from 2013.
All conclusions made by the district commissions, the Moscow city Election Commission and the CEC of Russia are confirmed by the conclusions of experts. According to the conclusion of handwriting experts, during the verification of signature sheets of some candidates, certain technologies for the production of signature sheets were identified. During the consideration of complaints to the CEC of Russia, we returned 2526 signatures to the candidates. Doubts, as a rule, were interpreted in favor of the candidates. However, during the inspections 106 signatures of deceased citizens were found.
Interestingly, none of the candidates who filed complaints decided to refute these findings.
Getting back to the Handbook for the Observation of Election Dispute Resolution, which explicitly states that "The rule of law guides the functioning of the judiciary and law enforcement, as well as the duties of government and public authorities." An important principle of the rule of law has been overlooked.
Here we should recall the definition given by Tom Bingham in the Venice Commission's 2016 Rule of Law Checklist as most appropriately embracing the basic elements of the very concept of the rule of law: "All persons and authorities within the State, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws." It is like a two-way street – all participants in the electoral process, not just the authorities, are obliged to comply with the law.
Of course, we have certain complaints about the work of district election commissions and the Moscow city Election Commission. It is clear that if the rejected signatures were returned to the candidates at each stage of the appeal - first by the Moscow city Election Commission, then by us - then there is a problem. Now we carefully analyze all stages of work of the commissions of all levels, not only the work of Moscow commissions. This will give rise to serious substantive proceedings and certain conclusions.
The electoral system of the Russian Federation, as in other countries, does not simply develop, but also introduce technologies that have already become electoral standards. However, the standards of international election observation lag behind national practices in their development. In particular, the OSCE electoral commitments have not changed significantly since the 1990 Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE. This confirms the long-overdue need to update them in the light of modern realities and new challenges. The need for a serious discussion about the OSCE ODIHR's approaches to the assessment of the electoral process in different countries and the development of consensus decisions is constantly discussed by Russian representatives at all OSCE events. We hope to be heard.