Elections 2020: fight for turnout, ballot box for ill people and virus as participant in voting

Key difficulties of the voting process in 2020 and possible influence of COVID-19 on it

Elections 2020: fight for turnout, ballot box for ill people and virus as participant in voting
Photo: Maksim Platonov

Fewer than a hundred days left to the Single Voting Day, which is scheduled for 13 September this year. Presidential elections, additional elections to the State Duma instead of tragically deceased Ayrat Khayrullin and additional elections to the State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan and municipal elections, including to the Kazan City Duma, are expected on this day in Tatarstan. Moreover, the elections this year will be held in unique conditions, while voting on amendments to the Russian Constitution scheduled for 1 July will become the final rehearsal of the presidential election. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondents together with experts and the Central Electoral Commission found out how we would vote in 2020.

nce Constitution will show

The voting on amendments to the Constitution scheduled for 1 July will become the final rehearsal for the September elections in Tatarstan. In other words, the voting will be held during the most dangerous period from an epidemiological point of view. It isn’t excluded that most coronavirus restrictions will be lifted by 13 September. However, a considerable part of them will likely remain.

We should remind you that head of the Russian Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova outlined key organisational moments of the voting on amendments to the Constitution last week. So contacts between people will be minimised during the voting, the number of voters and workers of a polling station won’t exceed 8-12 people an hour, before the beginning of the voting there will be widespread testing of members of the election commission for coronavirus. Moreover, one will be able to vote both indoors and outdoors — at mobile polling stations.

The CEC of Tatarstan told Realnoe Vremya that the electoral campaigns scheduled on the united voting day hadn’t been chosen yet, and the amount of sanitary protection measures would depend on the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the republic.

Voters in Tatarstan in general will be offered several options to vote. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

At the same time, the republican Central Election Commission explained in detail what the voting on amendments to the Constitution would be like. The commission confirmed that all members of election commissions at polling stations would be provided with means of individual protection (masks, gloves, sanitisers). The temperature will be taken at every polling station, while the station itself will be disinfected during the day. Voters in Tatarstan in general will be offered several options to vote:

  • “Voting before the voting day (early voting)”. Voters can go to the polling station at their place of residence and vote from 25 to 30 June;
  • “Voting outside the polling station”. It is voting at home and on adjacent territories, in settlements with polling stations. The voting will be from 25 June to 1 July;
  • “Traditional voting”, voting on the voting day (on 1 July) at the polling station at the place of residence or at any other chosen station within Mobile Voter mechanism.

Mobile Voter mechanism, which allows voting in situ, will traditionally be applied at the all-Russian voting. It is necessary to submit an application to vote at a convenient polling station on 1 July via the Multifunctional Centre, State Services portal or any other local election commission beforehand — from 5 to 21 June), while an application can be submitted through the local election commission from 16 to 21 June too.

Such mechanisms as voting via post, online voting won’t be used during the all-Russian voting in the Republic of Tatarstan, the Tatarstan CEC stressed.

Will polling stations have queues?

Precisely a restricted number of people at a polling station can create major problems to the voting, stresses head of Political Expert Group Konstantin Kalachev. The polling stations may not handle the flow of people who want to vote even with a low turnout.

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“It has already been calculated the possible throughput capacity of a polling station meeting all requirements Pamfilova established. And I will say this way: the throughput capacity will be very low. This can create the same problems we see now in many shops and establishments. On the one hand, the hall is empty, on the other hand, there is a queue at the entrance. Though I think that life will take its toll and I consider that the requirement [for the number of people] at polling stations won’t be met everywhere,” Kalachev thinks.

At the same time, the CEC of Tatarstan is convinced: a combination of several ways of voting mentioned above will allow avoiding queues and crowds at polling stations and meeting all safety measures at the same time.

What awaits voters whose temperature is above 36,6?

The experts surveyed by Realnoe Vremya add that the mask regime and temperature measurement will stay both on the day of the voting on amendments and on the single voting day. Won’t such a regime violate a person’s constitutional right to vote regardless of the body temperature and diseases? What will they do with a voter whose temperature is above 37 degrees regardless of its origin?

No, it turned out. The Tatarstan CEC told Realnoe Vremya that there would likely be a separate voting room for people with high temperature. Moreover, doctors will be on duty at polling stations who can help the ill people.

Political experts too forecasted such an approach — though same Kalachev noted that a person with high temperature would prefer not to go to vote.

Classic voting is expected

Online voting has been officially announced only in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast so far, though it was rumoured this experiment would include Tatarstan too. However, at the voting to amendments to the Constitution, the republic won’t even use the so-called digital polling stations. Consequently, experts think the united voting day in the republic will stick to a conservative scenario.

“There won’t be big changes in Tatarstan. The only thing is that the republic was seen as one of the pioneers of online voting, but it doesn’t seem to me it aspires to it. In any case, it is an experiment. This is why these elections will be classic. Yes, there will be some twists and turns, some candidates will report on violations at municipal elections, but it is typical and isn’t a trend for Tatarstan because campaigns go smooth. And we can say the stability will stay,” thinks Doctor of Political Sciences Andrey Bolshakov.

Political expert Ilya Grachevsky also assumes that there won’t be significant changes in the voting procedure either. “Online voting is the only novelty that can be borrowed from the voting on the Constitution, and only in some regions, and it isn’t for sure Tatarstan will have it,” he claimed.

Coronavirus as participant in elections

Nevertheless, the experts anyway talk about global changes, though not from a perspective of the organisation of election but the political process in general. This is why the coronavirus can be considered as another participant in the elections: nobody will vote for it, but one will have to consider it.

“The pandemic will be on the electoral agenda for the first time. Everybody understands that this virus is a signal that relationships of the society and some sanitary, medical, biological threats are changing here in general. Other viruses will appear, and those people who will include this topic to the electoral agenda to provide citizens’ safety, protect our health will be at an advantage. It will be a novelty in the electoral programmes. This is why the voting won’t be plebiscite but classic when people claim a programme. Nevertheless, the pandemic will anyway influence what we will hear with you. Moreover, the second wave of the coronavirus is promised,” Marat Bashirov thinks.

Same Bolshakov notes: the coronavirus pandemic might arise again.

“I think the pandemic will influence the voting process because we will constantly live in such situations, and they will return to us from time to time. I am afraid this has been the first rehearsal, and then there will be some global infections. In the next months, including the September period, we will have to live under the influence of this factor. The situation hasn’t improved, everybody, not only experts, understands it. Despite successes in some regions, particularly in Tatarstan, in fighting the coronavirus, we can’t talk about the economy this way. I read yesterday that unemployment in Tatarstan had tripled in the last months (Editor’s Note: it is data of the Tatarstan Statistics Service in April compared to March). It was very low here, and we could be proud of this factor. And now unemployed people total 55-60,000 people (Editor’s Note: 59,400 people according to the latest data), and their number keeps growing. I mean the backdrop for the elections will be mainly negative, and we will have to contend with it.”

No party

The turnout may become the major problem of the upcoming elections: the experts forecast that voters won’t want to participate in any mass events, including at elections. Neither will it become possible to make the elections in September a festive event like it was the previous years.

“The coronavirus won’t favour the turnout, of course. It is hard to create an atmosphere of a holiday when people are offered to keep a distance and take the temperature. This breaks the whole concept. We had a concept that elections are a holiday, everything was like during the Soviet times, but even better, with music, everything is beautiful and so on. We will have to cross all this out. Consequently, the elections will be quite dull. And dull elections, I think, don’t favour voting for power. This is why I wonder how the problem of turnout will be solved, probably through alternative options of voting — online, at home and other ways,” Kalachev supposes.

Vladimir Belyayev, head of the Department of Sociology, Political Studies and Management at Kazan National Research and Technological University, also pays attention to the problem of turnout and assumes that the elections could be postponed because of the coronavirus.

“Turnout will become the major problem because more than half of the population won’t go to vote because of the coronavirus fearing for their health. This is why there will be added votes we haven’t seen yet. As they don’t believe the effectiveness of measures taken, first of all, those who are in opposition to the authorities, they won’t participate.”
By Eleonora Rylova, Aleksandr Artemyev
Tatarstan