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‘Look after yourself — vote electronically!’ Moscow’s civil servants report being forced to register for online voting ahead of Russia’s constitutional plebiscite

Source: Meduza
Press Service of Russia’s Central Election Commission / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Moscow’s government employees have made mass complaints about management coercing them into registering to vote online ahead of Russia’s July 1 plebiscite on constitutional amendments. In particular, this apparent attempt to boost voter turnout has elicited reports of abuse from the Moscow Education Department, as well as the Moscow Housing and Utilities Department’s offshoots known as “Zhilishchnik” and “Avtomobilnye Dorogi” (which handle utilities and roadworks, respectively). The head of the Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, claims that none of these statements have been confirmed. However, Moscow’s Community Headquarters for Election Monitoring concedes that several municipal organizations have been “caught” in the act. 

Register yourself and bring a friend

Russia’s nationwide vote on constitutional amendments is now set to run from June 25 until July 1, but only residents of the Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod regions will be allowed to vote electronically. According to the Central Election Commission, Muscovites had already filed 384,270 applications for online voting by June 10, while residents of Nizhny Novgorod had filed 10,142.

That said, there’s reason to believe that not all of Russia’s would-be online voters are registering by choice. Over the past few days, Moscow’s government employees have been complaining en masse about their managers coercing them into registering for online voting through the government portal What’s more, they’re being asked to make their friends and relatives do the same.

One Meduza reader claimed that a particular district branch of Moscow’s state-funded institution “Zhilishchnik” is forcing its employees to register not only themselves, but also urging them to register three friends or relatives. “It’s important that you need [sic] to simply get used to online voting, however they are not obliging [you] to vote ‘for’ the amendments,” the source explained. He also said that manager’s are requiring employees to hand over the full names, addresses, and mobile phone numbers of the three people they’ve registered, along with a copy of their respective online registration confirmations. Meduza has sent a letter to “Zhilishchnik,” requesting a comment on these reports.

A Meduza employee in Moscow, who is also a member of a local election commission, received information about the need to register and apply for online voting before June 21 from the commission’s chairman. The message was framed as an appeal to public health, ending with the statement: “Look after yourself — vote electronically!!!”  

The commission’s chairman also said that any teachers who are members of this particular local election committee are being asked to send the principals of their schools screenshots of their online voter registration. There are also claims that teachers are facing pressure to vote electronically from the Moscow Education Department itself.

Arman Tuganbaev, a teacher at Moscow’s Gymnasium No.1540, recently wrote in a Facebook post that the education department was forcing him and his colleagues to register for online voting, not the school’s leadership. “It’s obvious that the education department has lists [with] the last names of those people from the school who registered, because the message literally [says]: ‘10 people from your organization have been registered.’ They’re promising problems for those who don’t register,” Tuganbaev maintains.

Meanwhile, the newspaper Kommersant reported that employees of the state-funded institution “Avtomobilnye Dorogi” were also being forced to register for online voting, as well: division managers were demanding that staff members present screenshots of their applications as confirmation. Similarly, sources told the BBC Russian Service that the heads of all organizations under the direction of Moscow’s Labor and Social Protection Department had been instructed to register with, and to urge no less than three friends or family members to do the same.

“Over fulfillment”

In conversation with Meduza, Ilya Massukh, the head of Moscow’s Community Headquarters for Election Monitoring, admitted that the problem of forced voter registration exists. He also confirmed that the headquarters recently discussed the issue with Moscow officials and the managers of state-funded institutions. 

“We are aware of the complaints and recently held an online-meeting, which invited the leaders of several structures that were caught in this […] ‘obtrusive information’ — for example the Moscow United Electric Grid Company and ‘Mosgaz.’ We told them that you can’t do this,” he said. According to Massukh, managers claimed that this was “over fulfillment” and that they “simply wanted to inform the employees.” “But of course, if they just wanted to inform, [employees] wouldn’t have been required to present a report,” Massukh says. 

According to Massukh, the election monitoring headquarters is planning to have more conversation with the leadership of government organizations involved in similar campaigning. “On Monday a mobile group will also start working at our headquarters: it will go to [government] enterprises and conduct conversations with both citizens and leaders. But, of course, we are working with the authorities […] we have conveyed our position that coercing voters is unacceptable to everyone,” he says.

Massukh also says that the election monitoring headquarters will distribute information about how city residents can report attempts to force them to vote. Closer to the start of the vote, they are also planning to issue instructions on “how to vote according to your conscience and convictions, if your employer is forcing you to vote for a particular option.”

“With the help of technology, it will be possible to vote according to your conscience, and at the same time ‘report back’ to [your] employer,” Massukh promised.

On Telegram, the Vice Chairman of the Moscow Civic Chamber, Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov, noted that “compulsion towards registration is, first of all, absolutely ineffective, and secondly, it has the opposite effect.” According to Venediktov, Moscow official Alexey Nemeryuk said during a joint meeting with the election monitoring headquarters that forcing employees to register for electronic voting and demanding proof of this is “categorically forbidden.” Meduza has sent a request for comment to Moscow’s Trade and Services Department (which is under the leadership of Alexey Nemeryuk).

Meanwhile, the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, maintains that the election commission has yet to receive any confirmation about these mass complaints. “These were largely fakes. Not a single statement that came [in] has been confirmed as of yet. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be,” Pamfilova said. According to her, reports about coercion refer to non-existent departments.

This is the second vote that will allow Moscow residents to cast their ballots electronically — the capital’s voters were offered this opportunity for the first time during the Moscow City Duma Elections in September 2019. That said, the process did not go smoothly: the electronic voting system failed, and IT specialists criticized it for allowing votes to be decrypted. However, this method of voting did provide for an impressive voter turnout: more than 92 percent of registered voters participated in the election online. 

Story by Maria Kolomychenko

Translation by Eilish Hart

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