Opportunities For Promoting Transparency And Accountability Under The Federal Law For Presidential Elections
by Robert Dahl
In addition to the role of domestic and foreign observers, the Federal Law on Election of President of the Russian Federation contains numerous provisions that create opportunities for transparency and accountability in the election process. This is particularly true in the counting of votes and tabulation of voting results by election commissions.
Unfortunately, these opportunities have been continually under-appreciated and under-utilized by the key participants in Russian elections. Therefore, these opportunities have been largely wasted, even as various political groups and observers publicly voice concern about the integrity of the vote count.
These opportunities for transparency and accountability are most clear in two areas: participation by party and candidate representatives in the work of election commissions at all levels; and the ability to track voting results from polling stations on up to the Central Election Commission.
Each duly registered candidate for President is entitled to appoint one
member to the Central Election Commission,
and one to every Subject and Territorial Election Commission
and one to each of the 96,000 Polling Site Election Commissions.
In addition, the four electoral blocs that succeeded in crossing the
5% threshold in voter support in the December elections
and were awarded seats in the Duma are also entitled
to maintain «deliberative» votes on election commissions at all levels.
Election commission members with «deliberative» votes have the right throughout the election process to be informed in advance of meetings;
to speak at the meetings, suggest actions and demand voting on issues;
to ask questions and receive answers of other participants;
and, importantly, to have access to all commission documents and receive certified copies of those documents.
These «deliberative» members are permitted, of course, to be present at the counting and tabulation of votes and to have their objections to any phase of the process included in the record attached to the commission protocol - including complaints they have about the accuracy of the protocol itself.
Also, all members of the Central Election Commission, including representatives of candidates and blocs, are entitled to participate in monitoring the operation of the State Automated System. Article 59 of the election law specifically permits them «to familiarize themselves with any information input into the automated system and output of it.»
While not a «deciding» vote on Commission action,
these rights of participation for «deliberative» commission members
have tremendous potential for monitoring and affecting commission actions.
These rights of participation should not be discounted.
Nor should the opportunity to exercise these rights be wasted.
Unfortunately, most of the parties and candidates forgo these opportunities
to participate, even at the higher levels of commission activity.
Political participants must organize to take full advantage of these opportunities. Failing to do so, they have little right to complain about the accountability of election commissions or to spread conspiracy theories. And they should not be looking to so-called non-partisan observers and other disinterested outsiders to do the job for them.
The other significant feature of Russian election law is the capacity
for following election returns up and down the chain of tabulation
at the various levels of election commission.
Most of you are familiar with the specific data required to be recorded
in the vote count protocols of polling site commissions
and in the tabulation protocols of territorial and subject commissions
and of the Central Election Commission.
The law requires that the «third copy» of each commission's protocol
be available for viewing and copying by deliberative members,
attorneys of candidates, observers, and representatives of mass media.
What is also important is that under the law
each level of election commission above polling site - that is,
each commission tabulating results provided from lower commissions -
must produce a summary table of protocol data from below.
For example, territorial commissions will create a protocol with
aggregate numbers for total votes for candidates for the entire territory.
But they also must produce a summary table
describing the vote count numbers received from each polling site.
Therefore, the official documents provide a means for complete review -
or a parallel vote count or spot-check sampling- to reconcile polling site
reports with territorial commission reports, and on up the ladder.
Article 58 of the election law provides this general guarantee:
«Results of voting at each polling station, on each territory, in each subject of the Russian Federation in the amount contained in protocols of the respective election commissions, must be presented for familiarization to any voter or observer, as well as representatives of mass media.»
Territorial election commissions must publish in local media election results contained in their protocol no later than five days after the election, and results from the protocols of all polling station commissions within their territory within 15 days.
The Central Election Commission must publish in the mass media nationwide election results and the protocol data of all subject commissions within one month. Within three months, the Central Election Commission is required to publish in its official gazette vote count results all the way down to the territorial level.
Thus, in both the area of election commission participation and tracking of election results, the election law provides enormous opportunity for transparency and accountability in the election for President of Russia. But political participants, domestic and foreign observers and the news media have to be willing to do the hard work of organizing, monitoring and follow-through to make these provisions effective. In the United States, we have the benefit of 200 years of experience in competitive elections. Our political parties and news media routinely engage in the hard work that is necessary to fully utilize opportunities under the law to insure free and fair elections. It is our hope Russia will soon reach that stage as well.