Chairperson of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova: Mr President, please let me briefly report to you on the upcoming election campaign, which will take place in September. It will be a massive one. You can the statistics right here.
In addition to by-election to the State Duma in four districts, almost all regions, except four, will hold some kind of election. In almost half of the regions – 41 – it will be major elections: 21 regions will elect top officials, 20 regions will elect legislative assembly members, and five regions out of these 41 will be electing simultaneously senior officials and members of the legislative assembly.
As you know, CEC is taking part in the Digital Economy national programme. Mr President, to a large extent due to your constant support and attention, we are actively moving in this direction.
A digital version of our state automated system Elections will be ready by the time of the presidential election. Of course, its main advantage, which makes it impenetrable, just like the current system Elections, is that it will be independent from the internet, the global network. It is important that with everything we are doing now towards digital transformation, there is the requirement that we use our own hardware and software. We can do this with the help of our partners.
I would like to talk about two issues concerning the differences between the current campaign and previous ones.
First – we have made great progress as regards digital services. We currently have over 20 digital services for all participants in the election process: parties, candidates, commissions, and most importantly, voters. They can receive almost all information about the upcoming election. We sometimes have more information than the parties do, including the documents they need to file. That is, we have made life much easier for them.
In addition, it is also possible to collect signatures – about half of them – online. These services are gaining popularity and are currently used by over 15 million people. I think that the process will be gaining momentum, both at these elections and by the time of the presidential election.
Let me briefly talk about e-voting, what differences we have now in e-voting: we are making a very big leap forward. Over the past four years, when we started introducing e-voting, about 5.5 million people used this form of voting, but this year the figure could reach 21.5 million. Twenty-five regions, including Moscow, filed applications – it was completely their own initiative, their own choice, we did not push them. Those who already have verified accounts [credentials on the government services site in these regions] amount to 21.5 million people. Imagine the difference: 5.5 million vs 21.5 million just over the past four years. That is, from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad – in those 25 regions where elections will be held, people can choose how they want to vote: traditionally at a polling station or online.
This is on a very large scale – we have about 300 types of elections of different levels, in which it will be possible to vote online. Another difference is that it will take place simultaneously in five time zones out of 11, this is also a leap forward. We think this is great progress. On the other hand, we are acting very carefully, not in a hurry. Still, the most important thing for us is safety. Here is what I wanted to say about e-voting.
I would also like to add: it is of particular importance, given that interest is growing… On the one hand, interest, and on the other, scepticism and criticism are growing, as well. Not everyone is in favour of innovations, as always. This year we are focusing on creating a very efficient system of civic control over e-voting.
As for traditional voting, everything is clear. But here there is a strange “black box,” and many people wonder: what is happening there, inside this “black box”? A vote in and a vote out – what happens in between?
Vladimir Putin: So, what happens? How do you monitor it?
Ella Pamfilova: Together with the Civic Chamber, both the federal one and the regional ones, we are now trying to create this effective system of control. We called on all the parties and candidates: please choose specialists you trust and delegate them to us to observe, to monitor the process. We are now providing ample opportunities for this (still, people should be technically savvy), so that specialists – we will do our best towards this – painstakingly monitor the confidentiality of voting, reliability of the results and, at the same time, that system of total control that gives grounds for complete trust. This is now our main aspect as far as e-voting is concerned.
In fact, Mr President, the most important, of course, I would even say historic, difference from all previous elections is that we have our four new constituent entities of the Russian Federation taking part in the elections for the first time.
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Ella Pamfilova: My colleagues, many colleagues from the CEC as well as from a number of our regions often go there and help, so we know first-hand what is going on there. We understand that the situation is difficult and we understand that martial law is in effect, but nevertheless, the amendments that have been adopted make it possible to hold elections under certain conditions.
The leaders of all four new regions – the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics, the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions – have approached us with the initiative that there is a need to hold these elections. In accordance with the law, we held all the necessary consultations with the Federal Security Service and the Defence Ministry, discussed the issue thoroughly, weighed all pros and cons and took upon ourselves this serious responsibility to support their initiative and the desire to hold elections. We are doing everything possible to do this and are providing all the assistance we can.
I want to say straight away that they are fully financed, fully from the federal budget, which means that everything that is required has been done. But nevertheless, Mr President, since the situation is really difficult, anything is possible. If unforeseen circumstances arise – if the situation rapidly deteriorates in a region, if we realise that there is a serious threat to the lives and health of people living there – we have the right to postpone the elections in any given region. We will certainly exercise this right if there are serious reasons for it.
Vladimir Putin: That’s clear.
Ella Pamfilova: What would I like to say? To ensure safety of people, we have established very good contacts with all our law enforcement agencies and work very closely with the Defence Ministry, Federal Security Service, Interior Ministry and National Guard because there are really many common issues.
It is very important that the law makes it possible to reduce the time required for these electoral procedures by up to a half, taking into account all the specifics. We urge our colleagues in these regions to take advantage of such an opportunity.
As a matter of principle, we have prepared the entire regulatory framework, it is based on the general federal principles: almost everything is the same, but there are some features and specifics that are simply necessary. For example, not everyone has a passport for various reasons – now the Kherson Region has been flooded, some people have lost their documents – not everyone has a passport, not everyone has had time to obtain a Russian passport. Now there is an opportunity to present not just a passport but also any identity document issued by public authorities.
We are now creating, and such an option is also possible, extraterritorial polling stations. What does this mean? Given the high mobility – many of those who voted in the referendum were there at the time, many are now in other regions of Russia – people travel, we have made provision for residents of these four regions, if they are not at home, to be able to vote wherever they are.
We are creating these extraterritorial polling stations and also extraterritorial polling stations in these four regions in response so that people from other regions of Russia, such as builders, doctors and military personnel, can vote there for their governor, legislative assembly and so on, without leaving.
Vladimir Putin: I understand, for the people who are there. Is e-voting also available to them?
Ella Pamfilova: No, not yet. It is very difficult there: we are also trying to get the state automated system Elections there, but right now it is absolutely impossible. You see, the situations are so different. It is wartime, so not yet, and it is technically very challenging to do this now.
I would like to say a few words considering that this year our commissions will mark a milestone anniversary: after all, this is the 30th anniversary of the electoral system in new Russia. Although in fact, Mr President, democracy in Russia is over a thousand years old: it goes back to 862, to the Novgorod veche. It is, of course, rather strange when various countries that are just a little over 200 years old begin to instruct us.
I would like to say that there have been many trials in recent years: both the pandemic and the difficult time now. However, I would say that the system, on the contrary, began to develop more and got stronger. Of course, the most important thing is that our commissions can be called the people’s commissions, unlike in the countries of Europe or the West, which are trying to tell us what to do and how. There, elections are held and counted by officials, the Ministry of the Interior mainly…
In Russia, a commission is a full representation of society in terms of political, national, social and professional aspect, in any aspect. This is a full representation of society. At least half of us are party representatives. Only six percent are officials at different levels. These are people’s commissions. That is, the very principle of forming a commission creates a system of internal self-control, when competing parties will, of course, prevent playing giveaway in anyone’s favour.
Of course, I would like to say a few kind words about my colleagues. In addition to their professional duties, many of them are now volunteering, donating blood for the wounded, and going to hospitals, all for the front. Many of us went to the front, including as volunteers and as mobilised soldiers, and they serve very well. Some of them have already been decorated. Unfortunately, three people died: our heads of precinct territorial commissions. They died heroically. We will not leave their families. We are proud of them and proud of those who serve!
This is very important, because now this is what’s strengthening the system, regardless of political or any other disagreements: patriotism, responsibility, an understanding that the upcoming presidential election is not just an ordinary presidential election, but an election on which the fate of not only Russia, but the world will depend for many years to come. And my colleagues understand this: that this is our electoral front line. I am sure that the almost million-strong army of my colleagues will do an excellent job.
Vladimir Putin: Do you need any help with preparations?
Ella Pamfilova: You are already helping.
Vladimir Putin: Is the funding for works and equipment being allocated on time?
Ella Pamfilova: Mr President, it is thanks to your instructions that it is being allocated. If I may, I would like to raise a few questions in the closed part [of our meeting] and discuss them.
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Ella Pamfilova: Thank you.