President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Pamfilova, could you share your assessment of the outcomes of the unified voting day?
Chairperson of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova: First, elections were held in 82 out of 85 regions. I have to say that competition during these elections was quite intense. In 16 regions where gubernatorial elections took place there were from three to seven candidates, and as many as eight or nine candidates in six regions which elected regional legislative assemblies. This goes to show that any talk of elections not being really competitive is groundless. On the contrary, the elections were very competitive.
I would like to thank you, Mr President, for taking into account, among other things, data coming from the Central Election Commission on the unified voting day results in 2016 and 2017 when taking decisions on new appointments in the regions. This is very important. We are about to complete efforts to address election-related issues we had in 2016. The commission is currently working on three regions: Dagestan, Mytishchi in the Moscow Region and the Saratov Region.
The number of complaints was at record low during the last campaign. In the regions, there was a sharp drop in the number of complaints coming from the deputies. About 18 percent of all complaints had to do with elections of governors and regional legislative assemblies. In fact, 80 percent of complaints were related to the election of municipal councils, and most of them refer to early voting. This is a headache we have not been able to resolve thus far. On the one hand, it is a matter of ensuring voting rights to the maximum possible extent. On the other hand, we need to make sure that early voting is not used for engaging in any kind of abusive activity. We are thinking about how this can be done.
There is another thing I wanted to highlight. We have introduced a number of innovations. Thank you for supporting them. We have tested them during this campaign. These innovations consisted primarily of moving away from serfdom-like election regulations whereby people were assigned to specific polling stations. This system underwent rigorous testing. There were almost no complaints on this system, which means that people accepted it. Not only were there no complaints, but we even received accolades for providing additional opportunities enabling people to vote at their actual place of residence, not where they are officially registered. If the same approach is used during the upcoming presidential election, we expect millions of people to benefit from this solution, given the size of our country. We are currently focusing on getting the word out about these new opportunities. We have removed all the barriers, and people must be aware of the opportunities they now have and must know how to use them.
We are explaining to people where they can vote and how. Our information centre for the presidential campaign is already working. We engaged multifunctional centres and the unified government services system which offers online registration. Our colleagues in the regions have been explaining all this to everyone. Some 242,000 people learned about this mechanism and used it, even though the campaign was very brief and many people were still on holiday. All in all, there were a number of innovations.
Once again, I would like to thank you for supporting our initiatives regarding amendments to provide better conditions for the many people with disabilities we have in Russia. What is being done to this effect? In schools, we are moving polling stations from the first to the ground floor so that everyone can go there. With these legislative changes, all social services have to report on people’s disabilities to the election commission, so that we can reach every person, and make sure that such people can cast their ballots at home, of course subject to oversight by election observers.
It was the first time that we advanced the public control system to such a high level. We never did this before. In fact, few countries have an element, which we have formalized, that is, video monitoring. Many regions used it of their own free will, and we are now introducing video surveillance at territorial election commissions. What does this mean? It means that groups and individual representatives from various parties, as well as observers, will be able to control the process as well as feed protocols into the State Automated System Vybory. In other words, we have created the necessary conditions.
Moreover, we are training observers and we have created a maximally positive environment. During the 2015 campaign, we had to evict 134 people [from polling stations], whereas this time it happened only to one individual by a court decision, and another person was inebriated and misbehaved. So, only two evictions.
The Central Election Commission is working on this now. We are training observers and are inviting parties to cooperate. If you want to have honest elections, do not complain but be active, come to us to be trained as an observer. We have an unprecedentedly transparent system.
The use of QR codes and machine-readable representation of data has decreased the number of human errors. Look at this. Compared to similar campaigns in previous years, the feeding of protocols now takes half the time because we use computers. The checking of data is done very quickly, which allows us to monitor the situation virtually in real time. If we see a lapse, we pinpoint the problem very quickly. In other words, we have stepped up control and hence accelerated the overall process. Moreover, the number of repeat entries, which has always been a problem, has been halved as well. We have introduced a series of technical innovations that make the system transparent.
Mr President, the most important element is the human factor. People’s mood is changing. Personnel rotation is considerable. Election commission members are approximately nine years younger now. The leadership of regional election commissions has been renewed by some 40 percent. We analysed their performance during the past two campaigns. Moreover, the number of government representatives on these commissions is decreasing. The 85 regional commissions have representatives from seven or eight parties on average. In all, 33 parties send their representatives to election commissions, that is, four parliamentary parties plus 29 more. This is a powerful control instrument, and we are willing to train party members to do this.
We see maximum openness everywhere. We have held roundtable discussions with members of the expert community and parties to discuss where we succeeded, where we failed, and how innovations are performed. As I said, there were hardly any complaints regarding our innovative methods. The only element of concern is the so-called municipal filter.
I would like to point out the following. It is very good, as I have said, that we have abandoned the system of early voting at all kinds of elections. Now we will think about what we can do at the municipal level. It is very good that we have created maximally good conditions for the observers.
On the other hand, we could strengthen the public element, that is, return civil society observers to the elections. We will think about this as well as the proposals regarding this. In short, we have created unprecedentedly transparent conditions together with the fact we react to violations very harshly.
We have tied up almost all the loose ends of the past campaign. There are very few loop holes left. I believe that we will complete this process soon, and then it will be the turn of the law enforcement agencies. We would like the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee to wrap up some cases.
Vladimir Putin: The necessary instructions will be issued.
Ella Pamfilova: Yes, we do hope so.
We will double the number of data processing systems. At present, there are only about 5,000, or more precisely 5,700 of such systems around the country. These are much-needed systems. We have launched the process of increasing their number and will double it in time for the presidential campaign. Since Moscow and the Moscow Region buy their own data processing systems, we expect to have 12,000 systems, which is 2.5 times more than at the moment. We will continue to increase this number with every passing year, because this modern equipment is trusted by the people.
Vladimir Putin: It also helps improve the quality.
Ella Pamfilova: Yes, it does.
As for the human factor, I want to say that the general mood has changed. People know what to do if an administrator misbehaves… But the lower the level of elections, the more violations are reported and the more people try to resolve their personal problems, which have little to do with nationwide problems. The members of our commissions at all levels know that if somebody attempts to put pressure on them or force them to take illegal action, they can resort to the new Criminal Code article that stipulates criminal punishment for this behaviour, or they can appeal to the Central Election Commission or the Presidential Executive Office. They know that they will be protected, which has changed the mood.
I dream of a time when the best of the best will compete for seats on election commissions, when this will become a prestigious job, when people will be proud of being entrusted with this high public mission in the interests of the state and the people, proud of safeguarding the Constitution and the law. This mood is gaining a foothold now. The best part is that people will trust the quality of the commissions as well as those who sit on them. When this time comes, we will have no need for observers and monitoring and for observing the observers.
Vladimir Putin: Ultimately, this amounts to trusting the authorities.
Ella Pamfilova: Of course, I am not a magician, and it is obvious that these measures will take a very long time to implement. This is a system-wide process that will not bear fruit quickly. However, many things are changing already now, and we have seen the first results, which I have mentioned above.