Open Letter to the Chairman of the Central Election Committee of the Russian Federation

12 сентября 2008 г.

To the Chairman of the Central Election Committee of the Russian Federation Mr. Churov V.E.

Copy: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

Dear Vladimir Evgenievich!

We would like to draw your attention to the evident problems, which have emerged recently regarding free access of citizens to information related to elections that took place in the Russian Federation, its regions and territories in previous years.

Doubtless, in recent years the Central Election Committee of RF has worked extensively to increase the openness of information related to elections. The information database on past and current elections has been actively updated and the websites of the regional election commissions were systematically launched according to plan. In particular numerous archive election materials starting from 1993 have been placed at the website of the Central Election Committee in 2006. For example, in spring 2007 a large amount of data appeared there covering elections from 1995 to1999, while before those data was not available even to experts in the sphere of electoral statistics.

However, from the second half of 2007 the amount of information on elections of the recent years available on the websites of election commissions has decreased significantly. In particular, at current in the public archive of the CEC on elections all the information is dated from September 2003, while all information earlier this date has disappeared from free access. Besides, citizens can no longer access old archive at the website www.fci.ru of the Federal Centre for Informatization. Currently information on elections that took place in 2003 is available in fragments placed at separate websites of regional elections commissions, which are not part of the unified system of websites related to the information data base of the Central Election Committee of RF.

We are also concerned that the disappearance of the data about past election campaigns will continue in the near future.

One of the principles of the Russian elections, as stipulated in paragraph 5 of Article 3 of the Federal Law “On Basic Guarantees of Voting Rights and Rights to Participate in Referendum for Citizen of the Russian Federation”, is the openness and publicity of election commissions. This requirement is an essential pre-condition for democratic elections, which is stipulated by international legal acts (Article 7 of Convention on Standards of Democratic Elections, Voting Rights and Freedoms in the CIS States). Paragraph 2 of Article 24 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation reads the following: “State governmental institutions, local government institutions and officials are obliged to provide everyone with the opportunity to read documents and materials, which have direct impact on their rights and freedoms, unless otherwise provided by the law”. At the same time Article 3 of the Constitution stipulates that the supreme direct manifestation of power of the people is referendum and free elections. Consequently, in our opinion, information about elections is a material which has a direct impact on the rights and freedoms of an individual and a citizen. According to the Paragraph 4 of Article 29 of the Russian Constitution “everyone has the right to freely seek, pass, produce and distribute information by lawful ways. The list of data classified as state secret is defined by federal law”. As far as it is known, information about elections in the Russian Federation is not classified as information containing state secrets.

In our opinion, free and open access to information about elections, regardless of how old it is, is an essential element not only of citizens’ right for free access to information, but also it is a guarantee of the establishment of an adequate political and legal culture in this country. It is an element of civic society’s oversight of the election process and governmental bodies’ activities. It is an essential condition to maintain citizens’ trust to the election system of the country. As known, comparing data of various elections on the same territory during various election campaigns helps to find abnormalities caused by falsifications and other manipulations with the election process. Also this method helps to define direction of work for observers from candidates and political parties. Moreover, these data are important for studying electoral history of this country and its regions; it is of major interest for journalists, organizers of the election process, scientists, and for all those who are interested in elections and their history.

It is regrettable that the decrease of possibilities for citizens’ access to the elections-related information goes together with the absence of institute of non-partisan domestic observation at federal level elections and in many Russian regions. As for control over the election process by its direct participants (i.e. political parties and candidates), it is apparently reducing due to constant decrease of the number of officially registered political parties as well as due to the actual cancellation of self-nomination at the federal and many other regional elections.

We would like to draw your attention to the problem of citizens’ access to information about this country’s election history in general and to that of its specific territories and kindly ask you to inform us about possibility to restore open access of the data disappeared from free access in 2007.

Yours faithfully,

Busin Andrey Yurievich, PhD in Law, Chairman of the Inter-regional Union of Voters

Golosov Grigoriy Vasilievich, Doctor of Political Science, Director of the Inter-regional Electoral Network of Assistance (IRENA)

Kozlov Vladimir Nikolayevich, PhD in Geography, main analysts, “Mercator” group, Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Science

Kynev Alexander Vladimirovich, PhD in Political Science, Head of the regional programs of the Fund on Information Policy Development, member of the management of the IRENA

Lubarev Arkadiy Efimovich, PhD in Law

Shibanova Lilia Vasilievna, Executive Director of the Association “GOLOS”

(Electronic signatures can be added here)