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‘Meduza’ fact check: is Russia too big to use an online voting system?

Source: Meduza
Alexander Shcherbak / TASS / Vida Press

The claim

The news agency Zakon (The Law) reported that the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, asserted that Russia would be unable to use an electronic voting system like Estonia’s due to the large number of time zones in the country. Meduza was unable to find a record of Pamfilova’s exact words. However, while reporting on an official hearing in St. Petersburg where Pamfilova gave a public address, Zakon paraphrased her statement as follows:

Pamfilova on electronic voting: Estonia is the only country where this strategy has been successful. In Russia, where we have 11 time zones and a ton of other problems, we definitely wouldn’t be able to do things like Estonia. It wouldn’t be effective for us.

The facts

A large number of time zones would be no obstacle to deploying a voting system modeled on Estonia’s. In that country, citizens can vote through the Internet only if they vote early, and they have seven days (153 hours) to make their decision during that period. Early voting ends several days before regular voting in physical voting sites. The online voting period typically closes on a Wednesday evening to give election commissions enough time to make a record of those who have already cast their vote using that system before in-person begins over the weekend. In order to protect voters from potential outside pressure, those who vote online can change their decision as many times as they would like, but only during the course of those seven days.

It seems that Ella Pamfilova simply doesn’t know how absentee online voting works in Estonia. In the past, figures like Alexey Venediktov, a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber and the editor-in-chief of the Echo of Moscow radio station, have offered to research Estonia’s system in depth and potentially adapt it for the Russian government. The Central Election Commission has agreed to conduct an experimental round of online voting in a single Moscow precinct during the Russian capital’s city council elections in the fall of 2019.

Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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