President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Pamfilova, when we reviewed the operation of election commissions this autumn, we agreed to meet in person to discuss the current ongoing work and what should be done additionally by the Government and the Presidential Executive Office to support you and your colleagues.
Let us talk about this now.
Central Election Commission Chairperson Ella Pamfilova: Thank you very much.
On that occasion, I gave you a booklet with the statistical updates regarding the previous election campaign. Today I do not want to mention all these figures again but I would like to highlight several specific features.
I have compiled a small booklet about what we are proud of, which is our digital services that number about a dozen and that enjoy the demand of all voters and everyone else involved in the process, including the commissions. Take a look; we are proud of this.
These digital services enjoy great demand, but first of all, I would like to say that competition at the last election was very high and very real. No fewer parties took part in the process than in 2016, 14 of them, and as many as 16 parties won mandates at regional elections, and the number of rejected candidates was three times lower: only 372 compared to 1,189 in 2016. This completely overturned all speculation about the wholesale rejection of candidates. The level of rejection was very low.
Since there is much speculation about foreign agents, I would like to say that none of them were denied their rights. For example, we had a candidate running for a federal mandate and six people running for regional mandates who performed the functions of or were affiliated with a foreign agent. Likewise, the observers and media outlets who were performing the functions of foreign agents, monitored and provided coverage of the elections on a par with others in accordance with the current legislation.
Vladimir Putin: I am aware of your position in this matter, which is to closely monitor and analyse the practice of the implementation of this law, and to make whatever adjustments are needed. I know this.
Ella Pamfilova: Yes, that is correct. We need to streamline it so that it is more effective, selective, expedient and target-oriented.
Vladimir Putin: It must also serve the purpose for which it has been adopted.
Ella Pamfilova: Yes, and it must not hit undeservingly at those who do not deserve this.
Vladimir Putin: It must not violate citizens’ rights.
Ella Pamfilova: Exactly.
Let me draw your attention to widespread speculation on another matter. We even issued a report on it in advance. I am referring to the allegation that we have too many people who were stripped of their passive right to vote. This is not true. On the contrary, in Russia this indicator is much lower compared to many other countries, even the most developed ones that pride themselves on their democracies. Fewer than one and a half percent in Russia do not enjoy passive voting rights, compared to six percent in the United States, to give you an example.
There is one more issue I wanted to mention. What makes this election special, and we have a chart on this topic as well, as you can see, is that independent candidates came in second in the number of seats after United Russia, which won the majority of mandates. You can see that independent candidates were far ahead of all other parties with 12 or almost 13 percent. This is another unique aspect of this campaign. These candidates worked hard and collected signatures, including using our services.
As for electronic signatures, we now use artificial intelligence to verify even those collected by traditional means. This year training quality was very high, so almost all parties filed quality documents, which goes to say that we were quite effective in working with them. This also led to fewer refusals. All the digital services have been effective.
Another important aspect of this campaign, which I wanted to highlight, was that almost half of all candidates at all levels were newcomers. This cannot be underestimated; after all, they provide a fresh perspective. This strikes a balance between experience and new people who can bring something new.
An important note: not only was the three-day voting in the ongoing pandemic justified, but voters came to appreciate it even more. Judging by all opinion surveys, people who came to vote appreciated the safety and convenience of this solution and supported this arrangement.
Vladimir Putin: However, the election commissions had more work to do.
Ella Pamfilova: This is true, but this is a separate matter. I will submit specific proposals on what can be done in this regard. It may be harder for us, but we made voting easier, so voters benefited from this.
I also wanted to draw your attention to at-home voting. In the current environment, due to the pandemic, the number of people who wanted to vote at home surged. Had we held the election in a single day, our commissions would have been simply unable to visit all these people. This three-day arrangement enabled us to cover all the needs.
All in all, 14.14 percent of voters voted from home, which does not take into account voting in remote locations, which is a separate category. For the sake of comparison, during the preceding elections, in 2016, 2011 and 2007, this figure averaged 6.5 percent.
This way the daily workload was lower, and commissions could stretch their resources in a way that enabled many more people to cast their ballots. People appreciated this, too. By the way, this was not an easy task, since we were very strict when it came to validating these votes. There is a very clear and straightforward correlation between the number of at-home voters and the number of voters who were over 60 years old. This is also important.
By the way, almost half a million observers representing parties, candidates and civic chambers monitored the voting process this year, both during at-home voting and at polling stations.
Vladimir Putin: Is that more than during the previous election?
Ella Pamfilova: It is. In 2016, there were four observers per polling station, on average, while this year there were five, with an average of over five people per station. This is a substantial increase.
There were quite a few international observers. They came from 50 countries and international organisations, including PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe], which is currently drafting its report. This is also important. I do hope that it presents a balanced position, because we did not hide anything from them.
Another important feature is video surveillance, which you suggested back in the day.
Vladimir Putin: Back in 2012.
Ella Pamfilova: Yes. But circumstances have changed drastically and now we are living in an age of cyber wars and cyberattacks. We had to think about security, on the one hand, and protection, on the other. These days people are more cautiously protecting their personal data, their privacy and so on.
That is why we proposed professional surveillance for this year’s elections. I will explain the difference. We did not make the streaming publicly available on the internet. Just imagine that half of the population goes to vote and the footage is available for downloading. Some people may be against that. Moreover, there is no video surveillance during elections in Western countries because people see it as a violation of their privacy.
We came up with the best option: the footage was streamed on a private website accessed by all election participants, both parties and unaffiliated candidates. There were also special public monitoring centres in every region for interested voters.
We created over 120,000 user accounts and analysed the results. There was some negative feedback and claims that access had been denied to some but it is not true. We issued many more account credentials than were actually used in the end. Those who wanted had the opportunity to observe.
What are the advantages of the proposed system? First, there is a rewind option for real-time verification and keeping records. The second and most important advantage is there is protection from simultaneous mass downloading that can bring down the system.
There was a risk of the footage being swapped using the new technology of making fakes. We removed this risk and actually targeted those who engage in producing fakes and substituting reality. There had been some panic over this. We believe that this type of surveillance system was an effective tool that we will continue to use. We will discuss further improvements with experts.
I would like to say a few words on remote e-voting. Having analysed it, we saw that, of course, this year we used it much more than in the past. We analysed all pluses and minuses.
This is, of course, a very promising form, Mr President. It will not replace traditional voting but should be used alongside it. Nevertheless, having studied all the pros and cons, I believe that, while we will keep working hard on it, we are still not going to rush as long as there are any questions.
The main problem we must solve is to achieve a high level of trust and find a mechanism of civil oversight that every voter will understand. Nobody should have any doubt that the system is under civil control. We are moving forward, in accordance with our capabilities and technical preparedness, on all matters related to oversight and security.
I would also like to thank you for your support. You asked about the assistance we need. Owing to you, your support, we will almost double the number of touch-screen voting machines that is, our electronic ballot boxes.
Last year we used all the resources we had – over 13,000 e-ballot boxes. Now we are ordering almost 10,000 new ones. Thank you for this support. They are highly trusted and sought-after in the regions. This is a big step forward in improving on traditional voting forms. We will never abandon them but we will use electronic forms as well.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.