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The results of Russia's 2018 presidential election Putin's record support, purged ‘dead souls,’ and a second ‘Crimea referendum’

Meduza
11:20, 19 march 2018

AFP / Scanpix / LETA

An absolute record

Winning his fourth term in office, Vladimir Putin received more votes than any other person who’s ever run for the Russian presidency. With virtually all the ballots counted, Putin got 56,202,497 votes, leaving in the dust the record-breaking 52 million votes Dmitry Medvedev won in 2008. To get a sense of how unprecedented so many votes are, recall that just 52.7 million people even voted in Russia’s 2016 parliamentary elections — almost four million fewer than the number of ballots cast for Putin on Sunday.

At the same time, the 2018 election didn’t manage to break a turnout record, finishing at 67.5 percent (just shy of the 69.8 percent turnout in the 2008 presidential election).

How they voted in the regions

As usual, the highest figures were recorded in the North Caucasus. Kabardino-Balkaria led the way, with 92-percent turnout and 93 percent of those votes going to Putin. The region unseated the country’s traditionally most eager Putin supporters: Chechnya (where turnout and votes for Putin were both 91.5 percent) and Dagestan (where these numbers were 87.5 percent and 90.7 percent). In the last election, a whopping 99.8 percent of all ballots in Chechnya went to Putin.

In addition to these North Caucasian republics, Putin grabbed more than 90 percent of the vote in just three other regions across the country: Tuva (where he typically wins big), and Crimea and Sevastopol, which experienced their first presidential election as subjects of the Russian Federation.

Before the vote, sources in the Kremlin repeatedly told reporters that the Putin administration was treating Sunday’s presidential election as a kind of “second referendum” in Crimea and “a test of the legitimacy of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.” Putin’s victory turned out to be somewhat more modest than the annexation referendum itself: he won 92.2 percent of Crimea’s Sunday vote (96.8 percent voted to “reunite” with Russia) and 90.2 percent of Sevastopol’s vote (95.6 percent supported Moscow’s annexation). Sunday’s turnout on the disputed peninsula didn’t break 80 percent, whereas it was 10 percentage points higher in 2014.

Voting irregularities

Ballot stuffing. According to the Central Election Commission, there were no serious violations of voting protocols. That said, monitors reported ballot stuffing at polling stations across the country, from the Moscow suburbs to Dagestan. Election officials even annulled the ballots at several voting stations. Noting that almost no observers were stationed at voting booths outside Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other regional centers, the election watchdog movement “Golos” says the public relied mostly on video surveillance cameras, which means there could have been more ballot stuffing than monitors were able to observe.

Purged dead souls. “Purging” voter lists is when a voter shows up at their polling station, only to discover that their name has been removed from the election officials’ books. Before Sunday, Central Election Commissioner Ella Pamfilova explained that officials had removed almost 2 million “dead souls” from the country’s voter records. She insisted that it would only affect people who are mistakenly listed by their old address or who have gone abroad. One of Meduza’s correspondents witnessed, however, how some voters in Moscow who say they’ve never changed their residency found themselves unlisted at their local polling stations. This means some voters could have been “purged” from lists to raise the election’s turnout artificially.

Kremlin.ru; A. Savin / Wikimedia; Kodru / Wikimedia; Yuri Kadobnov / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

Absentee shenanigans. Election officials used a whole new “absentee voting” system this Sunday that was designed to allow people to relocate their polling station to wherever they would be on Election Day. To avoid repeat voting, federal officials distributed lists to all polling stations indicating which voters should be added or removed from their registries. But the system didn’t work everywhere as designed. In at least one known case, Yabloko representative Pavel Melnikov was able to vote twice (once in Moscow and once outside Moscow). The Central Election Commission wants misdemeanor charges filed against him. The incident means that repeat voting could have occurred elsewhere, as well, thanks to polling station officials accidentally or deliberately ignoring the new system’s rules.

Abnormal vote distributions. Once again, analysts have discovered oddities in the mathematical distributions of votes recorded in Russia’s regions. According to the electoral statistician Sergey Shpilkin, the results indicate that vote falsification on Sunday was lower than ever, but it wasn’t absent entirely. There were several regions across the country with exactly 70-percent turnout and similarly round numbers of Putin support. There were suspicious peaks of votes for Putin in St. Petersburg, but the distributions in Moscow are almost ideal, corresponding closely to Gaussian distributions. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to assume that election officials in Russia’s regions continue to adjust both turnout and Putin support according to set targets.

Text by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Kevin Rothrock