Voting. With. One. Finger. Footage of Vladimir Putin voting online raises questions about whether the president really cast an electronic ballot
Notoriously uncomfortable with personal computers, President Vladimir Putin voted online on September 17, casting his ballot remotely while in self-isolation, following exposure to COVID-infected colleagues. Footage of Putin voting shows him entering his office and sitting down at a computer where the Web browser is already opened to Russia’s electronic voting system. Using a single finger, the Russian president then enters something on the keyboard and the screen flashes the following message: “Thank you. Your vote has been counted.” Meduza explains what’s wrong with this demonstration.
What’s amiss in this video?
To vote electronically in Russia, you need a mobile phone with a Russian SIM card. Logging into the voting system requires a unique password that is sent to each voter’s mobile phone, without which it is impossible to receive a ballot and cast a vote. People voting this way are also asked not to show their passwords to anyone else.
Nowhere in the footage of Putin casting his ballot is a mobile phone visible.
In theory, of course, Putin’s cell phone could have been hidden inside his pocket, for example. Maybe the moment when he used it to log into Russia’s voting portal was simply edited out of the video released to the public. The president has said many times, however, that he doesn’t use a mobile phone at all. In fact, he repeated this statement just two weeks ago at a plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum:
During recent talks at the Kremlin between the Russian president and German chancellor, Merkel’s mobile phone rang. The moderator also asked the Russian leader if he had a mobile phone. “No,” Putin admitted.
Are you trying to say Putin didn’t actually vote? Then how do you explain the “thanks your vote has been counted” confirmation?
We can offer three explanations here:
- Putin voted online without violating any rules. Russia’s president finally got over his issues with mobile technology and got himself a cell phone. But he would have needed to do this before September 13, which is the latest Russians could register for remote electronic voting. If this is the case, the footage released to the public simply doesn’t capture the moment when Putin used a mobile phone to get his login password.
- Putin voted online but he wasn’t subject to Russia’s usual election rules. Maybe the online voting procedure is different when you’re the nation’s commander-in-chief. From a technical viewpoint, we have no idea how this might work. All we can say is that ordinary citizens need a cell phone with a Russian SIM card in order to cast an electronic ballot.
- Putin didn’t actually vote online and everything in the footage released to the press was staged. The confirmation screen visible at the end of the video raises some serious questions. The URL for the webpage that displays the “thanks your vote has been counted” message — https://elec.moscow/ballot/success — is accessible to anyone. Go ahead and try it now. You, too, can experience the thrill of seeing these words on your computer screen. In other words, this footage is hardly reliable evidence that Vladimir Putin cast a real ballot. The news outlet Current Time has also pointed out that the date displayed on Putin’s wristwatch shows the number “10,” suggesting that the video may have been recorded on September 10, well before online voting in Russia even started.
Update. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the radio station Ekho Moskvy that Putin used a cell phone that belongs to one of his assistants to vote. “The president really doesn’t have gadgets, but his aides do. The phone of one of [his] aides was used for voting. Everything was absolutely normal here,” Peskov explained. If this is indeed the case, this person’s phone should be linked to Putin’s personal account.
Another update. According to Dozhd journalist Daniil Sotnikov, Putin’s watch may simply need to be reset. Apparently, video footage from military drills on September 13 shows that at the time, Putin’s watch said it was the sixth. “That being the case, today it really [would have said] the tenth,” Sotnikov wrote on Twitter. “It seems that Putin’s date is just a week behind.”
Cover photo: Alexey Druzhinin / Pool / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA