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The Role of Precinct Commissions in Electoral Manipulation in Russia: Does Party Affiliation Matter?

In: Russian Politics
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Max Bader University of Leiden, Netherlands, m.bader@hum.leidenuniv.nl

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The occurrence of manipulation in Russian elections is highly uneven not just across regions, but also across precincts. Why do some precinct election commissions take part in manipulation while other commissions stay “clean”? Drawing on a new dataset, this study assesses the impact of the party affiliation of precinct election commission members on electoral manipulation in relation to the 2016 State Duma election. The data reveal that, while the composition of most precinct election commission is diverse, United Russia nominees are vastly overrepresented among commission chairs. The study then finds that commissions with a chairperson nominated by United Russia significantly more often reported anomalously high turnout and United Russia vote share than commissions without a United Russia chair. Surprisingly, this is also true for nominees of the other State Duma parties, especially if nominees from these parties jointly with nominees from United Russia occupy the leading positions in the commission. This suggests that nominees from United Russia and other State Duma parties collude to deliver election results that are favorable to the regime.

Introduction

Fraud and manipulation are common in Russian elections. Reports about widespread electoral fraud or manipulation, however, mask a complex picture of significant geographic variation. Analyses of the results of the 2016 State Duma election show that there was little to no election-day manipulation in a substantial number of districts and regions. There were also districts and regions with extreme manipulation of the election results. Polling stations in those districts and regions reported on average over 90 percent turnout and United Russia (ur) vote share, or election results were visibly forged. In other districts and regions, however, electoral manipulation was scattered, with many polling stations reporting seemingly “normal” election results but also many polling stations reporting anomalously high turnout and ur vote share.

What explains this variation in the extent of electoral manipulation? A small and growing body of work offers explanations for why manipulation is more prevalent in some districts and regions than in other districts and regions. We have some understanding of why, for instance, there is more manipulation in Chechnya and Mordovia than there is in Karelia and the Novosibirsk region. But what explains variation in manipulation at the polling station level? In some areas, electoral manipulation affects the results from all or almost all polling stations, but in other areas the extent and prevalence of manipulation are fragmented. Why, then, do some precinct election commissions engage in manipulation of the vote while other commissions refrain from manipulation?

A potential explanation points to the affiliation of members of the precinct election commission (pec). Members of the commission from a certain party, especially when they are in leading positions in the commission, may attempt to illegally boost the result for their party. Considering the association of the ur party with executive authority, representatives from that party in particular may be expected to assist in the type of manipulation that benefits the authorities. Because of challenges in data aggregation, hypotheses about the relationship between manipulation and the party affiliation of election commission members have not previously been tested.

Drawing on a new dataset, this study assesses the impact of the party affiliation of precinct election commission members on electoral manipulation in relation to the 2016 State Duma election. Our dataset presents a comprehensive image of the composition of the nearly 100,000 precinct election commissions in Russia. Our main interest in this study is with the relationship between ur involvement in election commissions, and electoral manipulation. The dataset in addition allows us to assess the impact on electoral manipulation of other State Duma parties and of the democratic opposition.

The first section of the paper introduces necessary background information about pecs in Russian elections. The second section discusses the forms and extent of electoral manipulation in the 2016 State Duma elections, with a focus on geographic variation. Finally, the third and fourth section present the data and method, followed by a discussion of the findings from the analyses.

Precinct Election Commissions in Russia

National elections in the Russian Federation are administered by a many-layered system of election commissions which follows a clear top-down hierarchy, with the Central Election Commission (cec) at the helm. The 2016 State Duma election was administered by the following types of election commissions:

  1. one Central Election Commission;
  2. 85 Subject Election Commissions (one for each Subject 1 of the Russian Federation);
  3. 225 District Election Commissions (one for each electoral district/constituency);
  4. 2,820 Territorial Election Commissions (tecs, one for each administrative district);
  5. and 96,869 Precinct Election Commissions (pecs).

Until 2002 election commissions in Russia were formed by executive authorities and/or legislatures at the corresponding administrative level. In particular, tecs were formed by district-level legislatures and pecs, by municipal legislatures, “while taking into account” proposals for candidates from non-governmental organizations and “meetings of voters at places of their residence, work, service, or study”. Amendments to the framework election law in 2002 changed the principle of formation of election commissions, including tecs and pecs. 2 Crucially, most types of election commissions would now be formed by higher-tier election commissions, creating a more distinct “vertical” structure of election administration from pecs to the cec. pecs henceforth were formed by the tecs of the corresponding tec area, while tecs were formed by the Subject Election Commission of the corresponding region. The 2002 amendments can be viewed within the framework of the establishment of a “power vertical” in Russian government that more generally characterized the early years of Putin’s presidency. 3

According to current legislation, all pec members are appointed by the tec in the corresponding administrative district on the basis of proposals from the following three types of entities: political parties represented in the State Duma; the regional legislature or the legislature of the relevant municipality; and “meetings of voters at places of their residence, work, service, or study”. 4 The latter category includes non-governmental organizations. pecs by law have between three and nine members for polling stations with up to 1,000 registered voters, between seven and twelve members for polling stations with between 1,000 and 2,000 registered voters, and between seven and sixteen members for polling stations with over 2,000 members. Altogether approximately one million Russian citizens are members of a pec.

In a few ways, the formation of pecs deviates from the spirit of the law. Firstly, while pecs should now be formed by tecs (on the basis of nominations), in reality pec members are still often handpicked by the local authorities. 5 As a consequence, many pecs are in practice accountable to the local authorities, creating the potential for pressure from those local authorities to “deliver” a certain election result. Secondly, the process through which potential pec members are nominated often creates a false impression of pluralism. Most polling stations are formed inside educational institutions, cultural organizations (mostly “houses of culture” that are a legacy of the Soviet area), and production facilities, and pec members are drawn from among the employees of these places. pec members are formally proposed by one of the listed entities (parties, municipal legislatures, and meetings of voters), but their affiliation with those entities quite often seems to be only nominal. 6

Until 2013 pec members were appointed anew for each election. Following an amendment to the framework election law that was adopted in October 2012, pec members across Russia were appointed in April 2013 for a five-year term. The stated reason for this reform was to professionalize the work of pecs. 7 The crucial positions in the pecs are those of the chairperson and of the secretary. The chairperson, among other things, coordinates the work of the other members of the commission, maintains order in the polling room, communicates with the District Election Commission throughout election day, and hands over the results protocol to the District Election Commission after the vote count. The secretary keeps track of changes in the voter list, registers people voting with Absentee Voter Certificates as well as people voting at home, fills out the results protocol, and accompanies the chairperson to the District Election Commission after the vote count. 8 This list of powers and responsibilities indicates that the chairperson and the secretary together are essentially in charge of the work of the pec on election day.

For the purposes of this study, we have compiled a dataset of the composition of all pecs at the time of the 2016 State Duma election. 9 Table 1 shows the distribution of chairperson and secretary positions among a range of different political parties and other entities that have proposed members to pecs. Table 1 also shows the total number and share of pec members nominated by the different parties and other entities. The table contains separate data for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (cprf), Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (ldpr), and A Just Russia (ajr) party because we are interested in the possible impact on electoral manipulation of parties represented in the State Duma besides ur. Separate data are also provided for the Yabloko party, as this is the main party without representation in the State Duma which is considered to be in opposition to the regime, and as such will be separately analyzed in our study.

tab1

How does this distribution of positions in pecs among different political parties and other entities compare to the practice of other countries? Around the world, there are a number of different models for the formation of election management bodies. 10 A critical prerequisite of competitive and fair elections is that the election management bodies, including the central election commission, are impartial. 11 In some countries, impartiality is secured by staffing election management bodies with independent experts who have no affiliation to a political party. In others, election management bodies’ staff, or members of election commissions, represent a variety of different political parties or political forces from government and opposition. In most Western European democracies, the central election management body is attached to the state bureaucracy, often the ministry of the interior. 12 For other countries, especially those that, such as Russia, have installed democratic institutions in recent decades, impartiality implies that the central election management body should be independent from the executive branch.

Table 1 shows that pecs in Russia overall have a pluralist composition. Of the political parties, ur has the biggest number of pec members, but the other three parties represented in the State Duma are not far behind. In a typical pec in which political party nominees are represented, there are nominees from all four Duma parties. However, the distribution of the leading positions in the pecs (chairperson and secretary) raises the suspicion that, while the commissions are formally independent, they are often not impartial. As table 1 shows, the biggest category of pec chairpersons is made up of individuals who have been proposed by “meetings of voters”. The second biggest category of chairpersons, by a wide margin, have been proposed by the ur party. ur nominees are more than ten times more often pec chairpersons than nominees from any other party, and roughly three times more often than nominees from all other parties combined. The picture looks different among the less powerful pec secretaries. ur nominees still control substantially more secretary positions than other parties, but secretary positions are overall more evenly divided among different parties.

The system of proposing members for pecs works well in that it leads to a fairly pluralist composition of most pecs. Pluralism is more constrained with regard to the distribution of chairperson positions. pec secretaries are elected through a secret vote at the first meeting of the pec. Chairpersons of pecs, however, are selected and appointed by the corresponding tec. 13 This practice apparently leads to a great overrepresentation of ur nominees in chairperson positions, relative to their overall share among pec members, by a factor of roughly three. Nominees of the cprf, ldpr, ajr, and Yabloko, by contrast, are underrepresented by a factor of three to four. The law fails to ensure that the distribution of leading positions in the election commissions is overall balanced.

There is marked geographic variation in the selection of pec chairpersons. The proportion of ur chairs ranges from just 5 percent in the Tambov region to 74 percent in Ingushetia. In the case of the Tambov region, three-quarters of pec chairs were proposed by nongovernmental organizations; in other regions with relatively few ur pec chairs, most pec chairs were proposed by “meetings of voters”. In 270 tec areas, not a single pec had a chairperson proposed by ur. In most of these tec areas, all pec chairpersons were proposed by “meetings of voters”. By contrast, in 26 tec areas, all chairpersons were proposed by ur. The responsible authorities in those districts have done little to create an impression of impartiality in the composition of the pecs.

Manipulation and Fraud in the 2016 State Duma Election

Electoral manipulation, including direct fraud, has been a feature of all national elections and many subnational elections in Russia since the 1990s. We have some insight into why the degree of manipulation and fraud is bigger in some regions and districts than in others. A range of different studies has emphasized, among other things, that fraud is more prevalent in areas with a higher percentage of ethnic minorities, 14 that those responsible for fraud and manipulation seek to signal loyalty and deference to higher-level authorities, 15 that election fraud has spread through diffusion processes across districts, 16 and that a dominant position for ur in regional legislatures makes the occurrence of manipulation more likely. 17

The existing research has studied election fraud or manipulation at a high level of aggregation: the unit of analysis in most of these studies are the subjects (regions) of the Russian Federation, while a few take districts (raiony) as the unit of analysis. 18 This leaves us with little to no insight into what explains differences in the extent of manipulation across individual polling stations. In a homogenous rural district, or in a neighborhood in a major city, why is the vote manipulated in some polling stations, while the process in other polling stations is “clean”?

The 2016 State Duma election, like other national elections in recent Russian history, has been corrupted through widespread fraud and manipulation. We know this from both qualitative and quantitative evidence. Domestic observers reported numerous cases of fraud and manipulation, including ballot-box stuffing, carousel voting, and multiple voting. 19 Forensic analysis of the election results has provided insight into the extent of manipulation. Some analyses have pointed to large numbers of polling stations with anomalously high turnout in many districts and regions. 20 These analyses also show a clear and strong positive correlation between the extent of turnout and the extent of the ur vote share throughout Russia. A number of analyses have focused attention on election results that are either extremely similar or extremely dissimilar across a particular region or district, raising suspicion of coordinated forgery. In the Dagestani city of Buinaksk, for instance, most polling stations reported a vote share for ur of close to 100 percent, but in seven polling stations, all equipped with an electronic vote-counting system, its reported vote share was only between 35 percent and 57 percent. 21 These dissimilar results are hard to explain in the absence of manipulation. By contrast, one mathematician has identified 51 districts where election results are in an extremely narrow range: in each of these cases, the chance that the results would occur in the event of a manipulation-free vote count is less than 0.006 percent. 22 In the Saratov region, for instance, more than 100 polling stations reported a ur vote share of exactly 62.1 percent. These identical percentages indicate that election results were forged, such that the official results are unrelated to how people actually voted.

The forensic analyses demonstrate that part of the electoral manipulation in the 2016 State Duma election was primarily aimed at increasing turnout, while other manipulation was primarily aimed at increasing the vote share for ur – though as McAllister and White pointed out elsewhere in this collection, there was a strong correlation between turnout and ur vote share across Russia. 23 According to the official results, turnout in the election was 47.9 percent, and the vote share for ur was 54.2 percent. 24 According to calculations from one seasoned analyst of election fraud, however, actual turnout was probably closer to 36.5 percent, and the actual ur vote share was probably closer to 40.0 percent. 25 These calculations are based on the assumption that the distribution of turnout per polling station in each region should roughly follow a normal distribution. In many regions, the right side of the bell curve of a normal distribution is heavily skewed, indicating that large numbers of polling stations have reported anomalously high turnout. In some regions, a turnout plot does not even have a semblance of a normal distribution.

While the estimates are perhaps rough, there is agreement among analysts that there was substantial fraud in a large number of regions in the 2016 State Duma election.

A notable feature of the manipulation in the 2016 election and previous national elections is geographic variation. There were at least a few dozen regions without a notable degree of manipulation. When turnout is plotted for regions such as Moscow (city), Karelia, and Irkutsk region, for instance, the curve nearly follows a normal distribution, as one would expect in a manipulation-free vote. 26 For dozens of other regions, by contrast, a turnout plot, shows nothing like a normal distribution. In these regions, there are hundreds if not thousands of polling stations with anomalously high turnout and in many cases also an anomalously high ur vote share.

According to one analysis, there was comparatively little fraud in 37 regions of the Russian Federation, leaving 48 regions with a substantial degree of fraud. 27 In some of these 48 regions, the extent of manipulation across districts is uneven. Take, for instance, Terengulsky district and neighboring Kuzatovsky district in the Ul’yanovsk region. In Terengulsky district, according to the official results, average turnout for polling stations on election day was 52 percent, with a vote share for ur of 52 percent. Most polling stations in the district reported a ur vote share of around 50 percent. In Kuzatovsky district, roughly half of polling stations equally reported a ur vote share of around 50 percent, but the other half of polling stations reported a ur vote share between 80 percent and 90 percent. Because of these polling stations with anomalous results, turnout and ur vote share in Kuzatovsky district overall were 74 percent and 72 percent respectively. Considering the similarities between the districts, the discrepancy in election results is difficult to explain other than through manipulation.

Of the 48 regions with substantial manipulation, almost half show what may be called “extreme manipulation” in all or some districts. A credible sign of extreme manipulation in a district is when turnout or ur vote share is over 90 percent. Regions that are notorious for such election results include Chechnya and Tatarstan, but these are far from the only ones. Another sign of extreme manipulation is when results are not over 90 percent but in an extremely narrow range, such as in the aforementioned example of several districts in the Saratov region.

Among the 2,820 administrative districts in the Russian Federation where tecs were formed in the 2016 election, we can altogether differentiate between three types: districts with minimal manipulation, districts with extreme manipulation, and districts with scattered manipulation. In the districts with minimal manipulation, the vote was manipulated in few polling stations, if any. In districts with extreme manipulation, the vote was manipulated in all or almost all polling stations. And in districts with scattered manipulation, it is likely, considering the great discrepancies in election results, that the vote was manipulated in some polling stations. We are interested here in this latter type of district, and ask: why was the vote manipulated in some polling stations, but not (so much) in others?

The straightforward (but untested) explanation is related to the background and affiliation of pec members. Considering that electoral manipulation primarily favors the authorities, pec members with a closer affiliation to the authorities are expected to be more often involved in electoral manipulation. We focus in our analysis on those pec members – the chairperson and the secretary – that are in the best position to facilitate the manipulation of the vote. The main hypothesis that we will test is: if the position of chairperson or secretary is occupied by a nominee of ur (as the “party of power”), it is more likely that the vote will be manipulated at that polling station. It should be emphasized that nominees of ur in the precinct election commissions are not necessarily members of the party, or active supporters. Many may only nominally represent ur. Nominees of other parties in the commissions may also only nominally represent the organizations from which they were nominated. Some may in fact support ur. It is assumed here, however, the ur nominees are on average closer to the authorities than nominees from other parties.

We are also interested in the possible impact on electoral manipulation of the party affiliation of chairpersons and secretaries that are nominated by other parties. The cprf, ldpr, and ajr are at least nominally in opposition to ur, and a bigger vote share for ur is likely to reduce the seat share in the State Duma for those parties. We expect therefore that when nominees from these parties are in the chairperson or secretary position, the extent of electoral manipulation in favor of ur is reduced. cprf, ldpr, and ajr are often considered the “systemic opposition” to ur and the regime. 28 Yabloko, on the other hand, is one of the main political parties in the “radical opposition” and has a reputation of sticking to democratic principles. Especially when a Yabloko nominee controls the chairperson position, therefore, we would expect that electoral manipulation in favor of ur is reduced. We test our hypothesis about the association between electoral manipulation and the affiliation of pec members in the following section.

Data and Method

Our main interest in this study is assessing the impact of ur nominees as pec chairpersons or secretaries on electoral manipulation. For the purposes of this study, we have compiled a dataset of the composition of all pecs at the time of the 2016 State Duma election, and coupled these data with the official election results. Our core method consists of comparing the election results of pecs with a ur nominee as chairperson or secretary, to polling stations without that characteristic.

Russia is a large country, but much of the country is remarkably homogenous. A number of regions and sub-regional units, however, have a distinct political dynamic which is revealed during elections. There is also a significant difference, in electoral terms, between urban and rural areas. Turnout and vote share for regime candidates and parties in particular tend to be higher in rural areas, even in the absence of manipulation. We control for these geographic factors by only comparing polling stations inside tec areas. All tec areas in Russia are of one of three types: rural districts, in which all settlements are villages or minor towns; city districts, where the tec area is made up of all polling stations in a city (typically smaller cities); and neighborhood districts, where the borders of the tec correspond to those of a city neighborhood. The number of tec areas per region ranges from 2 in the Nenets Autonomous Region to 127 in Moscow. The average tec area comprises 35 polling stations. Consider for example Chelyabinsk region with its 51 tec areas: 7 of these are in the capital Chelyabinsk; 3 tec areas are in Magnitogorsk, the region’s second largest city; 15 tec areas are in smaller cities (where the borders of the tec area coincide with that of the city boundary), and 26 tecs are in the 26 rural districts of the region. Each district is limited in size and considerably homogenous.

There were 2,820 tecs and 96,869 polling stations in the 2016 Duma election. As noted, calculations by Russian election analysts suggest that real turnout could have been around 40.0 percent. In 521 tec areas, polling stations reported on average less than 40.0 percent ur vote share. In these tec areas, there is likely little variation in the extent of fraud or manipulation across polling stations. These tec areas are therefore filtered from our sample. In 126 tec areas, polling stations reported on average more than 90.0 percent ur vote share. In these tec areas, all or almost all polling stations have reported anomalously high ur vote shares, so there is likely little variation in the extent of fraud or manipulation across the polling stations. These tec areas are therefore also removed from our sample. Then there are 46 tec areas where the results of all or almost all polling stations were uniformly forged, as indicated by extremely low variation in ur vote share (standard deviation of less than 2.0 percent). We also filter these tec areas from the dataset. There are 270 tec areas in which none of the pecs has a chairperson from ur. These are tec areas where all or most pec members were nominated by meetings of voters or municipal parliaments. Since we are primarily interested in the impact of ur chairmanship on electoral manipulation, we filter these tec areas from our sample. There are also 27 tec areas where, by contrast, the chairperson position in all polling stations is taken by ur nominees. Given that there is no variation on our independent variable in these tec areas, they are filtered from our dataset. For 26 tec areas, finally, no data on pec composition are available. Our filtered dataset contains 65,369 pecs in 1,813 tec areas.

For every tec area, we calculate the median turnout and the median ur vote share. 29 Logically, in every tec area there are as many polling stations with turnout and ur vote share above the median value as there are below, and every polling station is a priori as likely to have turnout and ur vote share above the median value as they are likely to have results below the median value. Take the tec area of Novoaleksandrovsky district in Stavropolskii Krai. This tec areas comprises 50 polling stations, in 25 of which the chairperson position is occupied by a nominee from ur. Of the polling stations with chairpersons nominated by ur, 15 have reported turnout above the median value, and 10 have reported turnout below the median value. Equally, 15 of the 25 polling stations with a ur nominee as chairperson have reported a ur vote share above the median value for the tec district, and 10 have reported a ur vote share below that value. We conduct this type of analysis for all 1,813 tec areas in the dataset. The results from our analyses are presented in the following section.

It should be noted at this point that, if our main hypotheses were to be confirmed, we would not expect to see a particularly strong relationship between party affiliation and higher-than-median turnout and ur vote share. Firstly, while we have eliminated from our sample tec areas with low average turnout and ur vote share, it is likely that there are a substantial number of false positives in our sample: polling stations with higher-than-median turnout and ur vote share in tec areas with on average over 40 percent ur vote share, but without manipulation. Equally, there is likely to be a substantial number of false negatives in the sample: polling stations with lower-than-median turnout and ur vote share but with manipulation in tec areas with on average over 40 percent ur vote share. Secondly, besides pec members who have been proposed by ur, other pec members may have similar incentives or inclinations to engage in electoral manipulation. There are not many places in Russia where explicitly opposition-minded members are included in pecs, and in even fewer places do these people have a chance of being selected as pec chairperson or secretary. Especially considering the involvement of local administration in the selection of pec members in many places, it seems likely that many pec members who are put forward by meetings of voters, municipal parliaments, ngos, and other parties than ur are just as loyal to the authorities, or have just as strong as an incentive to manipulate the voting result at their respective polling station. Despite these caveats, we do expect that especially pecs with a chairperson nominated by ur are significantly more involved in electoral manipulation, and that this is reflected in an overrepresentation of higher-than-median turnout and ur vote shares in relevant polling stations.

Results and Discussion

In our initial analyses we consider the effect of the affiliation of the pec chair on reported turnout and ur vote share. We look at each of the three core categories of entities that have nominated pec members: political parties, regional and municipal legislatures, and meetings of voters. With regard to political parties, we consider the effect of partisan affiliation on reported turnout and ur vote share for each State Duma party separately because we are interested in the possible impact on electoral manipulation that these nominally oppositional parties have. Considering that Yabloko is the main party without representation in the State Duma that is seen as being in opposition to the regime, we also separately look at pecs that are headed by Yabloko nominees. Table 2 shows, for each of the categories, the proportion of relevant polling stations with higher-than-median (in their respective tec area) turnout and ur vote share. T-tests were performed to examine whether pec chairmanship had a significant effect on turnout and ur vote share.

tab2

The results indicate that when the chairperson position is occupied by a ur nominee, turnout and ur vote share are significantly more often higher-than median than when the pec chair is not held by a ur nominee. This suggests that there is a relationship between election results and the party affiliation of the pec chairperson. The results also provide further indication that electoral manipulation took place in the election: in the absence of electoral manipulation, after all, there should be no relationship between the composition of pecs and voting results in small, electorally homogenous areas.

What is most remarkable in the results from our analyses is that turnout and ur vote share also tend to be higher-than-median in polling stations headed by chairpersons from the other parties represented in the State Duma. It appears that nominees from the Communist Party, ldpr, and ajr assist ur in attaining election results that are primarily favorable to ur. This finding strengthens the idea that there is collusion between the Duma parties, as in a “party cartel”, but only in favor of the ruling party. 30 An alternative explanation for this remarkable finding, that we cannot test, is that (some) nominees from the Communist Party, ldpr and ajr who act as pec chair only nominally represent those parties, and in reality, are close to ur or local authorities.

Polling stations headed by nominees from all other categories than the parties represented in the State Duma have reported lower-than-median turnout and ur vote share. This suggests that having as pec chairperson someone who was nominated from a non-parliamentary party (especially Yabloko), from a meeting of voters (including from ngos), or from a municipal parliament often works as a check on electoral manipulation. While the number of observations for Yabloko is relatively small – only 278 pec chairpersons in our sample are Yabloko nominees – pecs headed by Yabloko nominees seem to be the least prone to electoral manipulation.

It could be suspected that the results from table 2 are distorted by results from polling stations in tec areas with either a very low or a very high share of chairpersons nominated by ur. In order to control for this possible distortion, we narrow the sample to tec areas with an intermediate proportion – between one third and two thirds – of chairpersons nominated by ur. Table 3 reports the outcome of the same set of analyses as those whose outcome is reported in table 2, but only for the narrower sample of tec areas. The results are very similar to those of the broader sample. Likely due to the smaller size of the sample however, slightly fewer of the results, are statistically significant.

tab3

As we saw, pecs that are headed by nominees from the Communist Party, ldpr, and ajr, are more likely to be involved in electoral manipulation at the benefit of ur. This is a prima facie surprising result: why would parties which compete with ur for seats in the State Duma, assist the “party of power” in getting a better result? The result would perhaps be less surprising if nominees of these parties were involved in electoral manipulation that also favored themselves. Our next analyses consider the possible effect of pec chairmanship of nominees from the Communist Party, ldpr, and ajr (as well as Yabloko) on these parties’ vote share. Table 4 contains the results.

tab4

While the vote share for ur is significantly often higher-than-median in polling stations which are headed by its nominees, the opposite is the case for polling stations headed by cprf and ajr nominees. This suggests that the cprf and ajr do not engage in the type of manipulation that would benefit them. Results for ldpr and Yabloko are statistically insignificant. The finding is surprising: nominees of cprf and ajr seem to assist ur in getting a bigger vote share at the expense of the vote share for the party that nominated them.

As noted, next to that of the chairperson the secretary position is the other central position in the pec. The secretary is in charge of a number of procedures during election day and works in tandem with the chairperson. We are interested, therefore, in the effect that the affiliation of the secretary may have on the extent of electoral manipulation. We look at the effect on turnout and ur vote share under four different configurations:

  1. when the pec chairperson is a ur nominee, and the secretary is a nominee from the Communist Party, ldpr, or ajr;
  2. when the pec chairperson is a ur nominee and the secretary is not a nominee from the Communist Party, ldpr, or ajr;
  3. when the pec chairperson is a nominee from the Communist Party, ldpr, or ajr, and the secretary is a ur nominee;
  4. and when the secretary is a ur nominee and the chairperson is not a nominee from the Communist Party, ldpr, or ajr.

Table 5 shows the results from the corresponding analyses.

tab5

The results lend further support to the “cartel” hypothesis. When the pec chairperson is a ur nominee and the secretary is not a nominee from the Communist Party, ldpr, or ajr, there only seems to be a marginally bigger occurrence of electoral manipulation. When the pec chairperson is a ur nominee while the secretary is a nominee from one of these other three State Duma parties, however, the occurrence of electoral manipulation seems to be much more prevalent. Equally, when the secretary is a ur nominee and the chairman is not a nominee from the Communist Party, ldpr, or ajr, electoral manipulation seems to occur only slightly more often than not. When the secretary is a ur nominee while the chairperson is a Communist Party, ldpr, or ajr nominee, electoral manipulation seems to be much more common. ur and the other State Duma parties apparently manipulate the election jointly rather than individually: only when both leading positions in the pec are occupied by State Duma parties (of which ur is one) is electoral manipulation especially prevalent. When one of the leading positions is occupied by a nominee from any of the other groups, by contrast, election results are closer to the tec median.

Conclusion

In studies of Russian politics, the focus tends to be on institutions and processes at the federal and regional level rather than on politics at the district and municipal level, despite the fact that local politics has a great impact on the lives of ordinary Russians. Similarly, analyses and commentary of electoral manipulation mainly consider the role of central authorities, including the Central Election Commission, ignoring that much fraud and manipulation actually takes place at the level of individual polling stations. This study has directed attention to precinct election commissions as important actors in electoral manipulation, and in doing so has attempted to contribute to our insight into the micro-foundations of manipulation in Russian elections.

We find that the partisan affiliation of precinct election commission members is an important determinant of manipulation: pecs with chairpersons who are nominees from any of the State Duma parties have significantly more often reported anomalously high turnout and ur vote share in the 2016 State Duma election than precinct election commissions whose chairperson was not a partisan nominee or who was a nominee from the opposition. The study also suggests that manipulation is especially prevalent when ur and any of the other State Duma parties jointly control the leading positions (chair and secretary) in precinct election commissions. The study thereby reinforces the image of State Duma parties as a cartel that serves the interests of the central authorities.

The study, finally, highlights an element of the façade nature of Russian democracy. Impartiality in election administration is crucial for competitive and fair elections. The composition of precinct election commissions in Russia is in most cases diverse, with members coming from a wide range of political parties but also from municipal legislatures and civic organizations. Nominees from ur however are vastly overrepresented among precinct election commission chairs. Our findings show that this lack of impartiality in the composition of the precinct commissions is indeed related to electoral manipulation.

1 These include the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol, which are not internationally recognized as constituent parts of the Russian Federation.

2 Federal Law, “O vnesenii izmenenii v Federal’nyi zakon ‘O politicheskikh partiyah’ i Federal’nyi zakon ‘Ob osnovnykh garantiyakh izbiratel’nykh prav i prava na uchastie v referendume grazhdan Rossiiskoi Federatsii’”, Law N 157-fz, 2 October 2012, http://pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ips/?docbody=&nd=102159748 (accessed 4 September 2017).

3 Vladimir Gel’man and Sergei Ryzhenkov, “Local Regimes, Sub-national Governance and the ‘Power Vertical’ in Contemporary Russia” Europe-Asia Studies 63, no. 4 (2011): 449–465.

4 Federal Law “Ob osnovnykh garantiyakh izbiratel’nykh prav i prava na uchastie v referendume grazhdan Rossiyskoi Federatsii”, Law N 67-fz, 12 June 2002: Arts. 22 and 27, http://pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ips/?docbody=&nd=102076507 (accessed 4 September 2017).

5 Arkadii Lyubarev, “Kogda budet proiskhodit’ formirovanie uchastkovykh komissii”, 2012, http://www.votas.ru/Formirovanie%20UIK%202013.html (accessed 4 September 2017).

6 Andrei Buzin, “Izbiratel’nye komissii kak dekoratsiya vyborov” (2007), http://www.votas.ru/ik-decor.html (accessed 4 September 2017); Lyubarev, “Kogda budet proiskhodit’”.

7 I.G. Verzilina, “Professionalizatsiya uchastkovykh izbiratel’nykh komissii: teoriya i praktika”, Vestnik Vyatskogo Gosudarstvennogo Gumanitarnogo Universiteta no.1 (2014): 35–38.

8 “Funktsii predsedatelya, zamestitelya predsedatelya i sekretarya uchastkovoi izbiratel’noi komissii”, http://www.uik44.ru/materials/1/tema-6/tema-6-5/67 (accessed 4 September 2017).

9 Data on the composition of election commissions in Russia was listed at the time of the 2016 election: https://www.wikiuiki.org/. The site has since stopped publishing these data. Data were missing for 4,189 chair positions and 4,461 secretary positions.

10 International IDEA, Electoral Management Design. International IDEA: Stockholm (2014): 6–8; Robert A. Pastor, “Mediating Elections” Journal of Democracy 9, no. 1 (1998): 154–163.

11 International IDEA, Electoral Management Design: 22; Rafael López-Pintor, Electoral Management Bodies as Institutions of Governance (United Nations Development Programme, 2000).

12 Shaheen Mozaffar and Andreas Schedler, “The Comparative Study of Electoral ­Governance – Introduction” International Political Science Review 23, no. 1 (2002): 5–27.

13 See Federal Law “Ob osnovnykh …”: Art.28.

14 Regina Goodnow, Robert G. Moser and Tony Smith, “Ethnicity and Electoral Manipulation in Russia”, Electoral Studies 36, no. 1 (2014): 15–27; Peter Ordeshook and Mikhail Myagkov, “Russian Elections: An Oxymoron of Democracy” vtp Working Paper No. 63 (2008), https://www.ucis.pitt.edu/nceeer/2008_822-11_Ordeshook.pdf (accessed 4 September 2017).

15 Kirill Kalinin and Walter R. Mebane, Jr., “Understanding Electoral Frauds through Evolution of Russian Federalism: from ‘Bargaining Loyalty’ to ‘Signaling Loyalty’”, prepared for presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, ­Washington dc, 2–5 September 2010, https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/files/gov2126/files/understanding_elec_fraud_russia_mebane_kailin.pdf (accessed 4 September 2017); ­William M. Reisinger and Bryon J. Moraski, “Regional Voting in Russia’s Federal ­Elections and Changing Regional Deference to the Kremlin”, prepared for delivery at the 67th ­Annual National Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago il, 2–5 April 2009, http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1099&context=polisci_pubs (accessed 4 September 2017).

16 Bryon J. Moraski and William M. Reisinger, “Spatial Contagion in Regional Machine Strength: Evidence from Voting in Russia’s Federal Elections”, presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, dc, September 2–5, 2010, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228211991_Spatial_Contagion_in_Regional_Machine_Strength_Evidence_from_Voting_in_Russia%27s_Federal_Elections (accessed 4 September 2017); Robert G. Moser and Allison C. White, “Does Electoral Fraud Spread? The Expansion of Electoral Manipulation in Russia”, Post-Soviet Affairs 33, no. 1 (2017): 85–89.

17 Max Bader and Carolien van Ham, “What Explains Regional Variation in Election Fraud? Evidence from Russia: A Research Note”, Post-Soviet Affairs 31, no. 6 (2015): 514–528.

18 Districts, rather than regions, are the basis of comparisons of electoral manipulation by Goodnow et al., “Ethnicity and Electoral Manipulation”, and Moser and White “Does ­Electoral Fraud Spread?”.

19 Many reported incidents of alleged election fraud and manipulation in the 2016 State Duma elections can be found at: https://www.kartanarusheniy.org/2016-09-18 (accessed 4 September 2017).

20 Sergei Shpil’kin, “Obnovlennoe raspredelenie golosov po yavke i skorrektirovannye rezul’taty”, 19 September 2016, http://podmoskovnik.livejournal.com/175574.html (accessed 4 September 2017).

21 Aleksandr Kireev, “O zabavnykh rezul’tatakh vyborov na uchastkakh s KOIBami i bez v Buinakske”, 22 September 2016, http://kireev.livejournal.com/1302700.html (accessed 4 September 2017).

22 Boris Ovchinnikov, “Chechnya, Bashkiriya, Saratov, Tyumen’: 51 tik, v kotorykh fal’sifikatsiia dokazyvaetysa matematicheski”, 27 September 2016, http://barouh.livejournal.com/422490.html (accessed 4 September 2017).

23 Ian McAllister and Stephen White, “Demobilizing Voters: Election Turnout in the 2016 Russian Election”, Russian Politics 2, no. 4 (2017): 411–433.

24 Central Electoral Commission, Vybory deputatov Gosudarstvennoi Dumy Federal’nogo Sobraniya Rossiiskoi Federatsii sedmogo sozyva. 2016. Elektoral’naya statistika (Moscow: cec, 2017), 10–11, http://vestnik.cikrf.ru/upload/publications/analytics/statistic_21_04_2017.pdf (accessed 1 September 2017).

25 Shpil’kin, “Obnovlennoe raspredelenie golosov”.

26 For turnout plots of all regions of the Russian Federation, see: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0ByFMnUnpIlriNmhaUlZoUFJteDA.

27 Aleksandr Kireev, “Moia otsenka urovnia fal’sifikatsii na vyborakh v Gosdumu po sub”ektam federatsii”, http://kireev.livejournal.com/1313935.html (accessed 4 September 2017).

28 Vladimir Gel’man, “Calculus of Dissent: How the Kremlin Is Countering Its Rivals”, ­Russian Analytical Digest, 15 April 2015: 2–4 (3).

29 The election results can be found here: http://els.golosinfo.org/ru/elections/75507 (accessed 4 September 2017).

30 On the idea of a party cartel in Russia, see Derek S. Hutcheson, “Party Cartels Beyond Western Europe: Evidence from Russia”, Party Politics 19, no. 6 (2013): 907–924.

  • 7

    I.G. Verzilina, “Professionalizatsiya uchastkovykh izbiratel’nykh komissii: teoriya i praktika”, Vestnik Vyatskogo Gosudarstvennogo Gumanitarnogo Universiteta no.1 (2014): 35–38.

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  • 17

    Max Bader and Carolien van Ham, “What Explains Regional Variation in Election Fraud? Evidence from Russia: A Research Note”, Post-Soviet Affairs 31, no. 6 (2015): 514–528.

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  • 28

    Vladimir Gel’man, “Calculus of Dissent: How the Kremlin Is Countering Its Rivals”, ­Russian Analytical Digest, 15 April 2015: 2–4 (3).

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