Stealing Russian elections ‘Mediazona’ breaks down the technicalities used to block opposition candidates in Moscow and St. Petersburg
This September’s City Duma elections in Moscow were shaping up to be an interesting showdown between independent candidates and “unaffiliated” representatives of the authorities. Instead, election officials have closed the door on the opposition, refusing to register dozens of challengers. Supporters of the would-be candidates have protested the decision, but City Hall isn’t budging. In a report published by Mediazona, journalists David Frenkel and Maxim Litavrin summarize the excuses election officials in Moscow and St. Petersburg have offered for rejecting candidacy applications ahead of the upcoming elections.
Several prominent politicians, including Ilya Yashin and Lyubov Sobol, lost their shot at candidacy because of endorsement signatures tossed out by handwriting experts. Both Yashin and Sobol responded with video appeals from specific supporters whose signatures were invalidated. In St. Petersburg, Ekaterina Kuznetsova (the local head of the political party “Yabloko”) was even told that her own signature endorsing Tatyana Lazovskaya was fake. (Election officials later backtracked and rejected Lazovskaya’s candidacy on different grounds).
Several candidates were rejected because election officials incorrectly catalogued the names of the people who endorsed them (making it impossible to identify them in voter databases). Oppositionists Dmitry Gudkov and Alexander Solovev say the mistakes are deliberate, pointing to obviously misspelled names and dates that don’t make sense (like the month “96” instead of “06,” or June).
In Moscow, Communist Party politician Timur Abushaev was surprised to find his candidacy rejected because he left blank his form’s section on foreign property holdings. Abushaev owns no property abroad, and the city’s paperwork doesn’t specify that such candidates must write “none” in this section, but he was disqualified precisely because he left the column blank. In fact, election officials initially ignored this blank space, but Abushaev’s rival from the political party LDPR took him to court and won. The same thing happened to a Yabloko member in St. Petersburg, where other party members were also rejected for failing to write “none” in the application’s section on criminal records.
Another would-be Yabloko candidate lost her spot on September’s ballot because of supposedly poor binding on her paperwork and missing page numbers. Someone else was rejected for failing to specify the total number of pages in their documents, even though this information isn’t required by law.
In St. Petersburg, Yabloko member Olga Lysova’s candidacy was rejected because she failed to disclose in her income statement that she received 176 rubles ($2.80) in state assistance for her child. Election officials turned down another candidate because he didn’t provide his taxpayer ID number, gave the wrong corporate address, and wrote the name of the tech giant “Apple” in English, not Russian transliteration, when disclosing his stock earnings.
Lost in the mail
Most of the rejections in St. Petersburg were tied to claims by local election commissions that Yabloko never formally notified them about its party conference, where it nominated its candidates. At least one election commission sat on the notification for several days and then said it was provided too late, while an election official at another precinct signed for the party’s notification, and then disappeared.
Even more hairsplitting
One St. Petersburg election commission claimed that Yabloko’s nominating convention was actually two events (because it ended after midnight), meaning that two notifications were required. Another commission told a group of politicians from LDPR that a single notification would suffice for everyone, but it later rejected everyone but the first name on the list. Elsewhere, one of Yabloko’s members was turned away because he didn’t capitalize the words “political party.”
In St. Petersburg, some of Navalny’s candidates were rejected because they didn’t present evidence of agreements with “signature collectors.” The commission decided that the individuals collected their signatures themselves, which it deemed a procedural violation because these people also volunteer at voting precincts. In past elections, however, voting officials have allowed such candidates to collect their own signatures. Collection contracts, at any rate, are not required paperwork when registering as a candidate in Russia's local elections.
Lost and substituted documents
A candidate in St. Petersburg was rejected because she allegedly failed to provide a copy of a page of her passport, but she says the local election commission changed the documents she submitted (and the scanned records on file don’t match what she submitted). In Moscow, commission officials apparently changed the date on some of Konstantin Jankauskas’s receipts for signature-collection payments, leading to the rejection of more than 500 signatures. In St. Petersburg, according to Yabloko, election officials deliberately changed PDF file extensions to EXE (making it impossible to open the files) and printed out incomplete copies of various PDFs. Also in St. Petersburg, commission members lost pages from accepted paperwork and one “Just Russia” politician’s party nomination notification, after issuing a certificate that the notification had been received.
Summary by Kevin Rothrock