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Summing up the results of online voter registration. June 23, 2020.

‘Some kind of technical error’ Electoral officials can’t seem to explain Moscow’s unusually high online-voter registration numbers

Source: Meduza
Summing up the results of online voter registration. June 23, 2020.
Summing up the results of online voter registration. June 23, 2020.
Sofya Sandurskaya / “Moscow” Agency

More than one million Muscovites registered for online voting in Russia’s constitutional plebiscite — overall, that’s every seventh voter. According to official statistics, in several precincts the number of voters wanting to cast their ballots online is actually greater than the total number of voters in that area. The strangest numbers have appeared at Moscow’s polling station No. 3395 in the Troitsky Administrative Okrug, where three times the total number of voters in that precinct filed applications to vote online. Meduza spoke with a representative of the territorial electoral commission and the chairman of the local electoral commission in charge of this voting district, and it turns out they themselves don’t understand how this happened.

All total, 1.09 million people in Moscow signed up to vote online in Russia’s plebiscite on constitutional amendments — that’s every seventh registered voter in the city, according to electoral statistician Sergey Shpilkin (who posted his analysis on Facebook).

Several precincts saw more voters apply to participate in online voting than the total number of voters registered in that district. As Shpilkin demonstrated, it turns out that four of these “anomalies” are in Moscow’s Troitsky Administrative Okrug. In each of these areas, the number of people that local electoral commissions have seen register for online voting exceeds the maximum normative number of voters in these precincts by 3,000 people. 

For example, polling station No. 3394 has approximately 4,000 registered voters who filed applications to cast their ballots online — that’s twice the total number of voters than that precinct had in 2019. That said, the majority of polling stations in the Troitsky Administrative Okrug are not seeing these kinds of anomalies — here, the proportion of people planning to vote online roughly coincides with the Moscow average. However, due to the number of “abnormal” precincts, the overall statistics in the Troitsky Administrative Okrug are above average: 39 percent of the region’s voters — 36,895 people — filed applications to cast their ballots online. Shpilkin thinks this happenstance “looks like a scam” and says “electronic voting in the Troitsky Okrug should be cancelled.”

According Shpilkin’s data, the Troitsky Administrative Okrug’s polling station No. 3395 had the most abnormal numbers: 7,296 people applied to vote online, even though during the last elections in 2019, this precinct only had 2,361 registered voters. An additional 1,338 voters registered in this precinct applied for absentee ballots (these applications are submitted by people who want to vote at another location, like their workplace, for example). Meduza verified this data against the Moscow Election Commission’s website, where figures like these are published.

The Troitsky Administrative Okrug’s territorial electoral commission told Meduza that these figures can be attributed to a “technical error.” “In our district there are no precincts where more than three and a half thousand voters are registered,” the territorial electrical commission’s secretary, Elena Aristova, told Meduza. 

Aristova explained that as of January 1, 2020, there were 2,358 registered voters at polling station No. 3395. “The data is updated once every six months, so the next [update] will be on July 1. But there are no new buildings in this area, nothing of the kind. It’s simply ridiculous, it can’t be, this is some kind of technical error,” she maintained. 

Aristova said that the “abnormal” precincts received no more than 400 applications from voters wanting to cast their ballots online. However, she also claims that the electoral commission has yet to receive the registry with the number of absentee voters from that location. 

Elena Golubkova, a representative of local electoral commission No. 3395, told Meduza that she doesn’t understand why this happened either — she attributed the situation to a technical error too. Meanwhile, the deputy chairman of the Moscow Electoral Commission, Dmitry Reut, didn’t respond to Meduza’s calls. The Moscow Electoral Commission’s press service didn’t answer the phone either, nor did Moscow’s Information Technology Department respond to our request for comment. 

On Telegram, Moscow City Duma Deputy from Troitsk, Valery Golovchenko, suggested that technical problems were in fact the real cause of these strange statistics. In order for the local electoral commission to delete residents who had opted for online voting from traditional voter lists, the precinct had to receive notice from Russia’s Central Election Commission. As such, according to Golovchenko, the reason for the anomalies is the fact that the Troitsky local election commissions received “extra” notices due to errors in voters’ addresses. The deputy believes that the number of these notices, rather than the number of actual applications, was reflected in the statistics by mistake.

“30,000 online voters made minor errors in the address on their e-voting applications,” Golovchenko wrote on Telegram. “In this instance, just to be safe, the [Central Election Commission], sends notifications to several [local electoral commissions], according to the address match, and not [full name]. The polling stations in Troitsk are precincts serving addresses without streets. As such, it was precisely this overlap that the ‘machine’ found and [it] sent notifications to these local electoral commissions on the off-chance of the exclusion of voters, who are not even registered in these [precincts].”

The Troitsky Administrative Okrug’s polling stations No. 3395, 3394, 3396 and 3386 do in fact include addresses without street names, which only the name of a neighborhood and house number. But these types of addresses are also included in the majority of other local precincts, and they didn’t see these kinds of anomalies in voter registration.

Golovchenko also failed to explain why exactly the anomalous number of notifications was recorded in the statistics as the number of people excluded from traditional voter lists. 

Story by Anastasia Yakoreva

Translation by Eilish Hart

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