Activists Urged to Become Elections Officials
Published: January 23, 2013 (Issue # 1743)
MOSCOW — A presidential election in Russia isn’t scheduled for another five years, but the people who will run the polling stations and count the ballots are already being selected.
Regional elections officials have until April 30 to form more than 90,000 local elections commissions nationwide — one for every polling station — whose members will serve five-year terms under a new law that elections watchdogs said is designed to protect the ruling party.
Given widespread allegations of fraud during State Duma elections in December 2011, often involving local elections officials, they say it is critical that independent activists committed to fair elections find their way onto local commissions.
Even one honest commission member is enough to “jam the vote-rigging machine,” said Roman Udot, head of monitoring at Golos, a nongovernmental elections watchdog.
Golos is one of several groups that have recruited thousands of volunteers to serve on the commissions, which have traditionally consisted of state employees and members of government-friendly civic groups handpicked for their loyalty, not for their democratic scruples, Udot said.
The new recruits, energized by the past year’s pro-democracy movement, which the 2011 election scandal helped to spark, will be placed on commissions mainly via the Communist Party and A Just Russia, parliamentary parties with the right to one spot on each commission.
As commission members, they’ll have access to voting documents as well as more clout than an observer, a significant number of whom said they were shooed away from polling stations during the Duma elections.
They can also influence other commission members, refuse to certify election results and offer dissenting opinions that can be used to challenge vote tallies.
Due to the new five-year rule, commissions chosen in the next few months will administer Duma elections in 2016, the presidential election in 2018, and gubernatorial and other local races.
Close attention will likely be paid to city legislative and mayoral elections in Moscow, expected next year and in 2015, respectively, given the particularly fervent opposition activism in the capital.
Georgy Alburov, of the opposition election-monitoring group Rosvybory, said he expects enough volunteers to cover every one of Moscow’s 3,400 voting stations.
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