Russia Presidential Elections - July 3, 1996 Election Monitor Report Russian Embassy - Washington, DC
The voting for the second round of elections at the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United States in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, July 3, 1996 was observed by IFES/Washington staff: Kimberley Ross, Vadim Rubin and Sharen Shackelford. The polling site was located in a large reception room inside the Russian Embassy «Compound».
Aleksandr Khudin replaced Aleksandr Danilov as the acting Secretary of the Precinct Election Commission; Mr. Danilov was in Russia during the second round of voting.
The Russian Embassy had 589 names on its voter list which included Embassy and consulate employees, and other staff, as well as Aeroflot employees, etc., with residences in the U.S.. Other voters had to show an Absentee Certificate or, more often, complete a short application requesting to be added to the voter list. The application asks for the voter's name, passport number, address, and signature. The Embassy had 6000 ballots on hand to accommodate voters at the Washington, DC location, plus the Washington, DC «dacha» (located in Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay), Cleveland, Houston, Miami, and Philadelphia. The Deputy Chairman explained to IFES observers that their polling site was allowed to have such a large overage of ballots due to their location. In the first round on June 16, 1996, a total of 2,195 ballots had been cast from these locations. The explanation given by the Secretary for the large number of excess ballots sent was the uncertainty of the exact number of voters. The Deputy Chairman told IFES that a representative of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (CEC) will visit the Embassy sometime after the election is completed and in order to examine the voter lists, used and unused ballots, tally sheets, etc.
The Deputy Chairman of the commission told IFES that prior to July 3, seven sessions of the precinct election commission took place. The commission also organized technical and administration meetings for training of the pollworkers. In addition, meetings were held specifically to discuss the issue of the validity of passports. Such meetings took place prior to, as well as after the first round of presidential elections. Assessments were made of procedures during the first round and changes proposed accordingly for the second round. An example given to IFES observers was the procedure for counting of the voters lists. During the first round all the pollworkers were involved in the final count of the lists. Apparently a mistake was made that lead to several re-counts. For the second round that procedure was altered, so that only three commission members did the final count.
The pollworkers were all embassy and consulate employees. According to the Deputy Chairman, all of the commission members and poll workers received materials that were received from the CEC. These materials included the constitution, the election law, regulations and poll worker guidebook. All of these were out on display throughout the election day. IFES observed use of these materials during polling hours, as well as after the polls closed.
IFES witnessed no other observer teams at the polling site, although an election commission member mentioned that observers for Yeltsin were also present. When asked about these observers, Aleksandr Khudin informed the IFES observers that the observers were present in the morning while the IFES team was present but had since left. He offered to introduce the IFES observers to the Yeltsin's observers upon their return, but this never occurred. He also stated that the Yeltsin observers had been present at the June 16 election, yet the IFES team was told by Commission Secretary Danilov that IFES was the only observer delegation present at the site. Khudin seemed unclear about details regarding these other observers and left the room in order to obtain additional information. IFES was not able to obtain any other details on the Yeltsin observers and none of the IFES observers were ever introduced to any other observers.
Opening of the Polls
The IFES observers arrived at the polling site at 7:45 a.m. to observe the sealing of the ballot boxes before the polling site opened at 8:00. When the observers arrived, the polling site was set up and pollworkers were prepared for the first voters to arrive. The room was arranged as it had been for the first round of Presidential elections on June 16, 1996. At 7:55 a.m., six election officials sealed the ballot boxes. Each of the two empty boxes were displayed, then closed and tied with a ribbon. Finally, the official seal was affixed over the ribbon. As during the first round of voting, a bulletin board stood just outside the reception hall with postings of Yeltsin's and Zyuganov's biographies and a sample ballot. The ballots were pre-signed with two signatures and pre-stamped. At 8:05 a.m. the first voters arrived.
The Polling Station
At the polling site, the IFES team saw no unauthorized campaigning or extra security personnel. Election officials seemed to be relaxed and knowledgeable. The large reception hall in the Embassy had long tables on one end where voters received their ballots, two secrecy booths in the center of the room, and the ballot boxes at the other end, in open view. On display at the entrance to the polling site were biographies of the two candidates, an enlarged copy of the ballot, and the citizenship requirements for voting.
Processing of Voters
Voters were required to show a valid passport and were issued only one ballot. IFES observers did not witness attempts at family voting although some problems in issuing ballots did occur. An election official explained that because most passports possessed by Russian citizens are USSR documents, the regulations do not clearly indicate how to distinguish between Russian citizens and citizens or residents of former Soviet Republics. Therefore, according to the commission member, citizens of other NIS countries were in some cases able to vote in the Russian elections.
One IFES observer witnessed a Russian citizen who has been a resident of the U.S. for over two years attempt to vote. The Russian citizen was not issued a ballot because there was no registration stamped in her passport by the Russian consulate. Nonetheless the dates on her passport were still valid and according to her she never renounced, nor was ever deprived of her citizenship. The election official explained to her where and how to register her passport, giving her the phone number at the consulate with the recommendation to call immediately. She was told that because her passport was not registered it was unlawful to issue her a ballot. Subsequently, she told IFES observers that she was under the impression that if she had assured the election commission member that she would register immediately, he would have issued her a ballot, allowing her to vote. This activity may have been repeated with other voters, as observers witnessed election officials holding lengthy discussions with voters after which the form to appeal to be added to the voter list was issued to the voter. In summary, the procedures detailing voting for Russian immigrants who never lost their citizenship are not entirely clear. Election commission members expressed their willingness to give those wanting to vote the benefit of the doubt.
In one incident, the IFES team witnessed one pollworker take a break when her husband arrived at which point they were seen discussing the ballot, bypassing the secrecy booths and marking their ballots on the ballot box. She then returned to the tables to continue her work.
Overall, the processing of voters went fairly smoothly and efficiently. Nearly all voters used the secrecy booths. The IFES team occasionally observed husbands and wives discussing the ballot and people marking their ballot outside the secrecy booths. However, the procedures for adding people holding USSR passports, but residing in foreign countries to voters lists outside the territory of Russia are not very clear. The explanations of those eligible to vote were available and on display at the polling site, however, the 1992 law on citizenship was not available1.
Mobile Ballot Box
Compared to the June 16 elections, a mobile ballot box was utilized for the Washington, D.C. area during the July 3 elections. A man in Rockville, MD called the Embassy on July 2, 1996 to request that the box be brought to his residence to accommodate his family which included his 94 year old grandmother. Four family members used the mobile box. Khudin said the box would not be used for any other voters unless a request was received before the polls closed. The Embassy had a car designated to take the mobile box to the voters. The Embassy had a car designated to take the mobile box to the voters. The voters signed the same voter lists that the voters in the Embassy signed. The list had some signatures on it when it was removed from the table. When the mobile box returned, the list was put back on the tables for additional voters to use. No separate count was kept for votes in the mobile box. Khudin said the box would not be used for any other voters unless a request was received before the polls closed.
Counting of the Ballots
Again the only observers at the polling site during the counting of ballots were IFES representatives. The Commission waited until exactly 10 p.m. to close the station. The last voters came through at approximately 9:45 p.m.
At approximately 9:30 p.m. four poll workers began to count the names on the voters lists. After the polling site closed, all the unused ballots were placed in a cardboard box. The box was sealed with stickers containing the commission's stamp. The unused ballots were not invalidated. A Commission member then called out names, indicating teams for vote tallying. A team consisted of two people: one to count the ballots, the other to record the votes on the tallying sheet. A total of ten people were involved in the tallying. Next, the two large ballot boxes from the Embassy polling site were opened and the ballots emptied out onto the tables where the teams sat. The votes were then counted and tallied.
After the ballots from the Embassy were tallied, the mobile ballot box was opened, emptied, counted and tallied by the teams. The mobile box contained 23 ballots. The names of voters that used the mobile box were not separate from the rest of the voters lists. Contrary to the first round of elections on June 16, when the ballots from Cleveland, Miami and Philadelphia were counted by the Russian Embassy, the protocols from these polling sites were sent by fax. The totals from these polling sites were first summed up on one protocol (in pencil) and in the end incorporated into the final protocol. The final protocol written in ink and signed and stamped by the commission members was sent from Washington, D.C. to the CEC Moscow.
Tallying was conducted in the following manner: one pollworker would unfold the ballots, one at a time, and call out the name of the candidate, while another pollworker would mark the vote down on a tally sheet (the sheets were pre-printed with the names of all of the candidates, as well as a place for the «against all candidates» choice). When the tally sheet was full, he or she would start another sheet and continue. In a few cases, someone would unfold and stack the ballots, another person would call the candidate's name, and a third would mark the vote down.
When the pollworkers were finished counting each stack, they counted the total number of ballots and checked this number against the total number of votes tallied. The IFES team observed only one small stack of invalid ballots (approximately 3), which were kept separate. No major conflicts or problems during the tally process were witnessed by the IFES observers. In several cases commission members asked the Deputy Chairman of the commission whether a ballot was marked properly. The Deputy Chairman said «yes» in all cases.
The poll workers finished the counting of the ballots very quickly and efficiently. Then three Commission members began to work on totaling the results. Once each stack of ballots was totaled and marked down, the ballots were put in a box. The final protocol was completed and signed by every member of the Election Commission included the totals that reflected the Washington, D.C. site, as well as the other sites, mentioned above, that were serviced by the Embassy. Everything was completed by approximately 1 a.m., and the protocol was faxed immediately to the Central Election Commission in Moscow. After the fax went through to the CEC, the Secretary of the Commission gave the IFES observers a copy of the final and official protocol. The Secretary, as well as other members of the Commission and Embassy staff, then thanked the IFES team members.
1 We have not been successful in obtaining it from the Russian consulate.