Preliminary Overview Of Observations: 16 June 1996 Elections For President Of The Russian Federation
International Foundation for Election Systems
21 June 1996
Background: IFES Election Observation for 16 June Elections.
The International Foundation for Election Systems deployed 4 teams of on-site staff and visiting consulting specialists to serve as election observers within the Russian Federation. Three teams observed elections within Moscow and the surrounding area; one team was deployed to Stavropol Kray. In addition, representatives of IFES regional offices observed remote voting at Russian embassies in Washington, DC, Bucharest and Kiev.
The primary purpose of IFES observer teams was to assess the conduct of the elections from a technical and administrative perspective. IFES' particular focus was to evaluate the procedural performance of polling stations and territorial commissions in meeting the requirements of the law, to assess the degree to which participants utilized opportunities under the law to observe the voting and counting process and to gain access to election documentation and voting results, and to evaluate the success of continuing refinements in election transparency, accountability and technology.
General Statement of Finding.
Based on the observations of IFES personnel, the administration of elections at polling sites and territorial commissions in June 1996 demonstrated significant advancement over performance observed in 1995 and 1993 elections. Comparison of the impressions of IFES observers in Moscow and Budyonovsk, however, suggest a continuing and not unexpected disparity in levels of official competence and procedural sophistication between urban and more rural or remote areas of the Russian Federation.
Some infractions and irregularities were observed by all IFES teams, but these appeared sporadic and non-systemic, and were insufficient to render election results unreliable. These was no evidence to indicate such problems represented an organized or pervasive attempt to interfere with the voting process or to manipulate or falsify the election outcome.
Thus, it is the conclusion of the IFES observer teams that elections for President of the Russian Federation held on 16 June 1996 were an accurate reflection of the popular will. In addition to the work of polling site and territorial election commissions reviewed by IFES observers on 16 June, it is apparent to IFES that the Central Election Commission and Subject level authorities have made great progress in improving the transparency, efficiency and professionalism of the electoral process.
Training and Official Competence.
Election commission members at both the precinct and territorial level possessed training handbooks and instructional reference materials. Election officials seemed familiar with the content of these guides, satisfied with the assistance these materials provided and generally confident of their personal knowledge of the election law and procedures. Several Moscow officials mentioned they had attended as many as four training sessions conducted by higher level commissions. The value of expanded efforts at instruction and training for election officials was apparent in consistency of their answers to observer questions.
Polling Site Organization.
Virtually all polling sites observed by IFES teams were well organized, particularly at the stage of signing into voter lists and providing ballots. Most sites were configured to facilitate transparency and efficiency in the voting process, including the positioning of ballot boxes in clear view.
A few polling sites placed voting booths too close to commission tables to permit appropriate separation of those voters waiting to sign in and receive ballots and those waiting for available voting booths. Many did not provide a commission member to assist voters in finding the next available booth or generally «direct traffic.» Almost every polling site became full of people during peak voting times between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., sometimes leading to deterioration of appropriate order.
IFES observers noted authorized informational posters about candidates and, as in prior elections, instructional posters about the voting process were prominently displayed in all polling site locations. Voters frequently appeared to be examining these materials. Also, sample ballots were posted.
IFES observers also noted the presence of security forces at polling sites in both Moscow and Stavropol Kray (perhaps due to special concerns in those localities). In neither case, however, did the presence of officers seem to intrude upon the voting process or indicate any effort at intimidation.
Voting secrecy. The most serious and pervasive problem identified by IFES and other foreign observers was general disregard for observing secrecy of the ballot. This problem was manifested in the form of both persons voting in public view outside voting booths and persons voting in couples or groups either inside or outside of voting booths.
IFES is aware of the cultural traditions that encourage these practices, particularly voting together by family members; habits of open or group voting will be difficult to change and will require long-term efforts at voter and election official education. IFES also recognizes these problems often result from simply too few voting booths as waiting voters accumulate (especially true in the elections in 1993 and 1995 involving multiple and complicated ballots). It is IFES' belief these practices were generally not the fault of election officials, who encouraged or insisted upon secrecy of voting to varying degrees. But it is clear voting secrecy problems were widespread, and may be becoming further socially ingrained.
Several election officials and voters expressed the view that privacy in voting was available to those voters who wished to do so, and that the choice of voting out in the open was somehow evidence of democratic progress. Secrecy of the vote should never be merely optional, however. A lack of required and routine voting secrecy can subject persons choosing secrecy to suspicion and pressure and, ultimately, invites intimidation of voters by election officials or partisan observers.
Observers. The number of candidate and party observers and representatives at polling sites (and at territorial election commissions) appeared considerably greater in the 1996 elections than in those prior elections. Officials seemed well informed about the rights of observers to monitor the voting and counting process and were almost always cooperative and encouraging toward observers.
The Communist Party had observers in virtually every polling site observed by IFES teams, including in Kiev (some observers were identified as representing the Zyuganov campaign rather than KPRF)). Representatives for Yeltsin, Yavlinsky and Lebed were often also present and, occasionally, for Bryntsalov or Zhirinovsky (or Liberal Democratic Party). IFES' Moscow team encountered observers at polling sites representing public associations not directly involved in the nomination of candidates.
Communist Party observers at polling sites and territorial commissions were apparently trained and had been provided instructional materials and forms for copying voting results (which they could have certified by the polling site commission).
One concern arose from the frequent observation that observers representing Yeltsin were affiliated with local administrative authorities. It was uncertain whether their service was truly voluntary, or if their presence impacted the sense of autonomy of the polling site commissions.
The level of participation in election commission activity varied or was unclear across polling sites for those candidate representatives serving on election commissions with a «deliberative vote.» Monitoring by candidates and political parties in Stavropol Kray was apparently limited only to election day observers rather than «deliberative» commission members.
Processing of Voters.
Identification. Verification of voters through proper identification and signing of voter lists appeared correctly implemented. With one exception, persons without proper identification were routinely refused a ballot; those bringing more than one person's passport to vote were also not permitted to vote for those not present.
Voter lists. Computerization and printing of voter lists by the territorial commissions provided a significant improvement in clear format and utility. Practices for correcting or updating lists by commissions during the course of election day varied (such as for voters who had died or moved away), but appeared well-intentioned and conducted with the approval of commission members and observers.
The addition to the lists of names of voters who showed proper identification to demonstrate they resided in the precinct, specifically permitted by election procedures, was also carried out properly. These additions did not appear unreasonably numerous; observers in Stavropol Kray observed two polling sites servicing military bases where 150 and 70 newly arrived conscripts were added to the lists. In the Moscow area, military personnel were represented on election commissions.
Certificates. Those persons presenting «absentee» certificates entitling them to vote outside their home precinct were also added to and properly noted on voter lists. These certificates were consistently stamped by the issuing precinct and signed by officials at the polling station where the person voted.
IFES knows of one instance, however, where a polling site commission in Moscow was not open during normal business hours prior to the election so as to afford voters an opportunity to apply for and receive a certificate for voting outside their home precinct.
IFES observers were advised certificate holders retained them to allow voting in the second round; while understandable as a convenience to such voters, not collecting them at polling sites where used on election day suggests accountability problems as to both polling site documentation and subsequent use of certificates by individual voters in the second round (who may then be back home).
Ballot authentication. In general, ballots were signed and stamped by polling site commissions in advance of election day, raising serious issues of ballot security. The opposite but also troublesome situation was encountered in one precinct in Stavropol Kray, where the polling site commission members were hurriedly stamping and sealing stacks of ballots during the final hour of voting (which would presumably be unused and therefore soon voided). Ballot handling and dispensing by commissions appeared generally orderly and secure, however.
Portable ballot box. IFES teams in both Moscow and Stavropol Kray observed the deployment of and voting through portable ballot boxes. The number of voters seeking requesting use of the portable ballot from their polling site varied considerably, generally depending upon the preponderance of elderly voters. In no case did the number of requests seem unreasonable under the circumstances. One precinct observed in Stavropol Kray considered using the portable box to vote newly arrived recruits at a nearby military base, but then decided to bring the soldiers to the polling site to vote in person.
Both teams were impressed by the competence and exactness in following procedures of the commissioners who implemented the portable ballot box procedure, including giving complete instructions to voters and affording privacy during the marking of the ballot. The elderly or disabled voters to whom the box was brought were very grateful for the opportunity to vote by this means. Thus, although this procedure carries a risk of manipulation and continues to require strict controls, the tradition of the mobile box seems to be an indispensable service to voters.
Counting of Votes at the Polling Site.
In the precincts observed by IFES in Moscow, counting of the ballots was carried out in an orderly fashion. Observers at a polling site near Budyonovsk in Stavropol Kray found some confusion and a rush to proceed at the counting stage.
Observers. Candidate or party representatives were present at all polling sites where IFES teams monitored the count. All observers were afforded a full view of the counting process.
One IFES team in Moscow noted candidate observers assisting in sorting of the ballots by candidate; another saw candidate representatives serving as commissioners with «deliberative vote» actually assist in the counting of votes. At the Budyonovsk site, the commission voided unused ballots at the same table and simultaneously as the counting of votes was being conducted. In both instances IFES observers did not believe these irregularities represented an effort to deliberate miscount nor served to undermine the reliability of results.
IFES observers transcribed results of the results in precincts where they observed the vote count, which were certified by the polling site commission (one polling site commission was reluctant to certify a copy until the territorial commission had approved it). No challenges were raised by any observer or candidate representative as to the validity of the precinct vote count in the presence of IFES personnel.
Invalid ballots. Very few ballots were improperly marked by voters (occasionally by the traditional crossing out of names of candidates opposed); IFES teams noted a general reduction in the number of «spoiled» ballots (those returned by voters who recognized they had marked ballots improperly and sought a replacement from officials) and invalid ballots (those improperly marked ballots placed in ballot boxes). Election commissions appeared to be knowledgeable about rules for invalid ballots and to adhere to them.
Protocols. It was the common experience of IFES and other observer groups that that the completion of the protocols by polling site commissions proved a protracted and difficult task, often taking much longer than the vote count itself. Of particular difficulty for officials was filling in numbers regarding information about voter participation and ballot usage (not the candidate vote count) that required intermediate steps of calculation not specifically addressed on the protocol.
To simplify and speed up the protocol completion process, IFES strongly recommends supplemental instructions be provided on their completion and that the protocol form be revised (or a worksheet provided) to account for the intermediate calculations necessary for completing protocols.
Tabulation of Results at the Territorial Commission.
IFES teams viewed the process by which polling site protocols were transmitted to and tabulated by territorial commissions as orderly and well organized. Observers in Budyonovsk saw official tabulation of results in two rooms according to precinct location in the city or surrounding area.
In both Moscow and Stavropol Kray, IFES observed polling site protocols being checked by territorial commission members. Some protocols were rejected and sent back to the polling site for revision if incorrectly completed or if computations were in error; in a few cases this reconciliation process seemed to cause some confusion about how to proceed.
State Automated System. All IFES election observers were extremely impressed by the efficiency and transparency of the SAS computer tabulation of election results at the territorial election commissions. Computer operators and election officials responsible for this process were knowledgeable and professional. Inputting of the date from precinct protocols was conducted in the presence of polling place officials and verified by them at the conclusion.
A few instances were observed where the SAS computer recognized mathematical errors and refused to accept data; in those cases, polling site representatives were required to recalculate and reconcile the numbers, and draft and have certified a new protocol. Data was not transmitted to subject election commissions and the Central Election Commission until properly verified and reconciled.
Although not of serious concern, IFES noted practices varied somewhat as to signature requirements for certifying SAS data input. In Moscow, printouts generated at the conclusion of data input for each precinct were produced on forms already stamped and signed by territorial commission members and then signed by the computer operator. In Budyonovsk, as each precinct's results were entered in the computer, a printout was then signed by both the computer operator and the polling cite official monitoring its input; the polling site official also then signed a log being maintained by the computer operator listing the number and location of each precinct and time of completion of data entry. Both circumstances, however, indicated careful adherence to accurate and transparent SAS tabulation.
In sum, all components of the SAS system - equipment, software, personnel and election officials - seemed to work together successfully. Perhaps more importantly, the preliminary vote count practices were shown to be highly transparent and accountable.
Hours of operation. IFES was discouraged to find a territorial commission in Moscow, presumably finished with its tabulations and drafting of its protocol, had already closed down and vacated its operations by Monday afternoon. Even with the quick pace of official vote tabulation during the week following these elections, territorial commissions should have stayed open and accessible to observers until the completion of their legal term at the announcement of official results by the Central Election Commission. Failure to do so defeats the opportunities for accountability provided by the law by which the tabulation of precinct vote results can be tracked and verified at territorial commissions for a reasonable period after election day.
Russian election authorities made a determined effort to permit Russian citizens living or traveling abroad to vote. IFES found polling sites abroad to be highly organized. Embassy officials were well informed, open and cooperative with IFES observers. However, embassy guards did not permit credentialed IFES personnel into the polling site until after the polls had opened and voting begun, a situation that should be remedied by proper instructions in the future.
While recognizing the difficulties in insuring proper voting procedures overseas, IFES suggests some specific areas deserving further review. Ballot security presented a particular problem.
Due to uncertainty in the number of voters on election day, embassies received far more ballots than were actually used by voters on election day. The embassy in Washington received 5000 ballots and used only 2,195. Election officials in Washington indicated the rate of voter participation for the Presidential election was only slightly higher than for the Duma elections in December. IFES recommends the number of ballots given to polling sites abroad for the second round be based on turnout for the first round.
In contrast, the embassy appeared to limit the number of ballots given to other US polling sites under its jurisdiction, including Cleveland, Philadelphia, Miami, Houston and a second Washington location. When some of these cities had not received a sufficient number of ballots to accommodate voters, Washington faxed ballots to polling sites on which were placed only one signature and no stamp. When returned to Washington for the vote count, voted ballots possessed no further authentication. IFES observers could not ascertain whether a record was kept of the number of ballots distributed by fax. Also, during poll closing procedures in Washington, the unused ballots were never voided but rather only sealed in a box intact.
Thus, these practices noted by IFES observers raise concern about the uniformity, control and security of ballots used for voting in locations outside the Russian Federation.