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Ballot boxes at a Moscow polling place. September 9, 2022

Pre-marked ballots, a leaky ballot box, and at least 19 arrests The key takeaways from Russia's first elections since the full-scale war began

Source: Meduza
Ballot boxes at a Moscow polling place. September 9, 2022
Ballot boxes at a Moscow polling place. September 9, 2022
Maxim Shipenkov / EPA / Scanpix / LETA

This weekend, as Russian soldiers were fleeing Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, many of their compatriots were going to the polls to vote for governors, regional parliamentarians, and municipal deputies. Though September 11 was Russia’s official “single voting day,” residents of some regions could cast their ballots as early as Friday. Not for the first time, this year’s elections were rife with reported violations and brought few surprises, at least according to available preliminary results. Meduza gives a rundown of what happened in Russia’s first elections since the Kremlin launched its full-scale war in Ukraine.

Russia’s three-day voting period, which saw elections in 82 regions between September 9 and September 11, has come to a close. Voters were given either one, two, or three days to cast their ballots, depending on the region where they live. Overall, more than 4,700 local and regional elections were held throughout the country. 14 regions had direct gubernatorial elections (and legislative assembly deputies in Adygea voted to reelect Murat Kumpilov as head of the republic). Six regions elected regional parliamentary deputies. In Moscow, the only place in the country where jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s team held its “Smart Vote” initiative this year, municipal deputy elections were held in 216 of the city’s 245 districts.

In eight regions, including the city of Moscow, residents could vote online. According to the Russian Central Election Commission, both the Moscow and federal remote electronic voting (DEG) systems were hit by cyberattacks. Moscow election observers reported the attacks on the morning of September 9; by the afternoon, voters were unable to receive ballots. According to the independent election monitoring movement Golos, the failure lasted about 90 minutes. A total of 10,000 attacks were reported in Moscow over the three-day voting period, while Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova reported over 300 attacks on September 10–11 in Russia’s other regions.

According to Moscow Deputy Election Commissioner Dmitry Reut, turnout for Moscow’s municipal elections was at 32.8 percent as of 6:00 pm Moscow time on September 11. Reut reported that about 1.7 million people voted electronically, while over 645,000 people voted in person. In seven regions that also allowed electronic voting, according to Ella Pamfilova, almost 93,000 people had voted as of 4:30 pm on September 11. The Yaroslavl region had the highest turnout: by the morning of September 11, 83.5 percent of people registered to vote electronically had done so.

In all regions that held gubernatorial elections, according to preliminary data from Russia’s Central Election Commission, incumbent candidates are leading.

In the Tomsk region, Vladimir Mazur is leading the gubernatorial race (with 83.74 percent of the vote). In Buryatia, Alexey Tsydenov (86.13 percent) is leading. Yevgeny Kuivashev (84.31 percent) is leading in the Sverdlovsk region. In the Udmurt Republic, Alexander Brechalov (60.92 percent) is leading. In the Saratov region, Roman Busargin (76.44 percent) is leading. In the Ryazan region, Pavel Malkov (77.22 percent) is leading. In Karelia, Artur Parfenchikov (71.6 percent) is leading. In the Yaroslavl region, Mikhail Yevrayev (84.95 percent) is leading. In the Kirov region, Alexander Sokolov (74.19 percent) is leading. In the Novgorod region, Andrey Nikitin (84.24 percent) is leading. In the Vladimir region, Alexander Avdeyev (83.14 percent) is leading. In the Mari El Republic, Yury Zaitsev (65.87 percent) is leading. In the Tambov region, Maxim Yegorov (84.3 percent) is leading. In the Kaliningrad region, Anton Alikhanov (89.39 percent) is leading.

Election observers, candidates for office, and voters were all subjected to psychological pressure, according to Golos, which monitored elections in 19 regions. Election observers and members of candidates’ campaign teams were prohibited from taking photos or videos in polling places. Observers were also removed from polling places, threatened by law enforcement (and others), and arrested. In Moscow, multiple election observers were assaulted. By 3:00 pm on September 11, according to the human rights media project OVD-Info, 19 people had been arrested in connection with elections. Nine of them were candidates and five were observers.

According to Golos, more election violations were reported in the city of Moscow than in any other region; as of 7:00 pm Moscow time on September 11, 626 violations had been reported over the course of three days. The region with the second highest number of violations was Krasnodar Krai (168), followed by the Udmurt Republic (88), the Moscow region (80), and the Kirov region (67). Golos participants reported “anomalies” in voter turnout data, forced voting, and problems with remote voting. Some voters, including A Just Russia party leader Sergey Mironov, were unable to vote at their assigned polling places because they were already marked in the system as having voted electronically or because they were missing from voter registries.

Golos participants also told Meduza that they discovered a network of Telegram channels that were all created on August 22 specifically for the upcoming elections. The channels have repeatedly published false reports of election violations in Moscow polling places, allowing the Moscow City Election Commission to refute the reports.

Bulletins with small, pre-printed dots in the checkbox next to United Russia, the country’s ruling party, were found in Moscow, according to the news outlet Sota. A ballot box with a hole large enough to fit a hand through was seen in the Saratov region.

Russia’s Central Election Commission reported receiving 93 reports of possible election violations in the first two days of voting. Valery Fadeyev, the head of Russia's Presidential Human Rights Council, claimed that “the majority of election violation reports cannot be confirmed,” and that officials found only “tiny violations that can not possibly affect [election] outcomes.” Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova said on September 11 that “in terms of violations,” the weekend’s elections were “fairly boring,” Interfax reported. According to Pamfilova, 218 ballots in six regions were declared invalid. Russia’s Interior Ministry reported that it had not found any violations large enough to affect election results. Meanwhile, the ministry opened eight criminal cases.

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