President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Pamfilova, there was a major election campaign last year, our colleagues worked actively and professionally, they coped effectively with this amount of work. This year, almost 50 percent of Russian regions will hold multi-level elections, including gubernatorial elections and those to local legislatures. What else can we do to help you carry out the work as effectively this year?
Chairperson of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova: Yes, Mr President, first of all, thank you very much for your constant attention and support.
Indeed, we are continuing with the intensive work on the development of the election system. We are using a systemic approach here. We need to simultaneously improve all key aspects, including the legal framework, practical law enforcement, as well as retooling and re-equipment. Issues dealing with the human resources potential, including the training of personnel and all measures in general, are very important. And I have brought some proposals to you in connection with this.
I would like to once again thank you for your support in giving us access to the Digital Russia programme. This is very important, and will allow us to continue developing. When we came up with the Mobile Voter concept (thankfully, you and the legislators supported us), people came to believe in it. Over seven million people have made use of this facility to date. We will continue to expand it.
Vladimir Putin: Guaranteeing the constitutional right to take part in elections.
Ella Pamfilova: Yes. In effect, we eliminated many barriers, and we suggested the Voting is Easy slogan. Naturally, voters might face a difficult choice, especially during competitive and important elections. Voting is not easy, and thoughtful people need to know how to vote. On the other hand, the voting process must be easy, simple, transparent and accessible. This includes long-distance options; and everything must be available. We are now working in this direction, and I want to say that we will try to make everything as simple and accessible for everyone as possible, as well as understandable and transparent for civic control.
Much has already been accomplished in this area with your help. In 2012, we started installing CCTV cameras on your initiative. We later went even further, and CCTV cameras are now installed at territorial election commissions. Today, we are working with Rostelecom to provide regular, long-term and better video equipment and surveillance with QR codes and other measures to ensure the system is as transparent as possible. Young people like this. We will continue our work. In effect, we are creating new capabilities, and the Digital Russia software allows us to do this.
We are now using everything; we work with integrated government and municipal services centres and the Integrated Government Services website. We are set to create new digital voting capabilities in the run-up to federal and regional elections. We are planning to streamline a pilot project as soon as 2019, that is, during the upcoming elections in Moscow. For example, a number of polling stations will open in Moscow, and the Mobile Voter system will allow people currently staying in Moscow, rather than in their own respective regions, to vote for their governors and legislators in all regions and territories, due to host elections at specially equipped digital polling stations in Moscow.
In time for the 2021 major election campaign, we plan to open some 5,000 digital polling stations, which will lift all the obstacles, so that voters will be able to take part not only in the federal but also in regional elections even when they are not in their home regions on voting day. This is what we plan to do and, I hope, what we will accomplish.
These unique digital services are designed not only for voters, but also for the candidates, observers and members of the media. In other words, these services will take public monitoring of the election process to a fundamentally new level. This will enhance public trust in the election results. We want to involve everyone in the zone of responsibility. This is our first goal.
Where do we need your assistance? Mr President, we do need your help. In addition to what I have said and where you have already helped, we have a problem with the role of law enforcement agencies in ensuring election compliance, that is, in preventing violations. For our part, we have done everything we could. The lawmakers have upgraded punishment for violations and falsification, and we use all the available technical means to prevent this. We have replaced the heads of election commissions and other personnel in the regions where we had complaints.
As a result of this, the number of violations and complaints is gradually decreasing. When we reveal violations, we resolutely cancel elections. We replace [commission] heads and punish those we have the authority to punish. But this is not enough; people must be aware of the inevitability of punishment for their misdeeds.
Unfortunately, there were problems even at the latest elections. Who is responsible for the cancellation of elections? We cancelled the elections. Who is to blame for this? We suspect or know who, but we do not have the investigative authority. I believe that it is vital to get this procedure into shape. I have forwarded the available material to the Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee. There are only a few unresolved matters, but we must deal with them. We must identify and punish the organisers of these violations. Those who are to blame for the cancelled elections must not evade punishment, so that nobody would try to do what they did. This is where we need your help.
There is another very important matter that has to do with law enforcement agencies. We process a tremendous amount of candidates’ case files during large-scale campaigns. Sometimes, we have to process 260,000–300,000 documents, and we need to see whether there have been any convictions. This does not concern just the candidates. We have another problem. If we deal with them in such a tough and exacting manner, then we must also be tough and exactingly with election commission members. Under the law, we must also find out whether any prospective election commission members have any valid convictions or not.
Unfortunately, we are facing major problems here. We do not have such an integrated centre and database. Every agency has something. Overall, the Interior Ministry cannot cope with this. Therefore, I suggest that this issue either be resolved under the law, or the Interior Ministry should be vested with the relevant powers. Or we should establish some inter-departmental centre because, to be honest, this is a national security issue and there are many aspects to it. This is my request.
Vladimir Putin: All right, let us work on the first and second issues. And what are the current levels of technology and equipment for your work this year?
Ella Pamfilova: This year… I have a number of proposals. First of all, this concerns minor legislative amendments. Second, technical support for the Elections state automated system, our federal information centre is also important. I hope that you will support us.
We also need support in some other areas. There are plans for a nationwide census in 2020, and we have generally established a good basis for it. This does not amount to support. To my mind, it is necessary to use the potential of election commissions during the upcoming census because we have done a lot to finalise the lists of voters. We have worked with the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, all immigration services, all agencies and our diplomatic missions abroad to complete this database.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree.
Ella Pamfilova: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Your highly professional colleagues are working in a well-organised manner. Therefore, it would be best to involve your colleagues in the population census. I agree, let us do this.
Ella Pamfilova: Thank you.