Crowd-sourcing Russian election violation maps

Oct 26, 2014 by

[This post was originally published in March 2012]


Maps based on crowd-sourced data allow us to visualize – if not always accurately – spatial patterns in a wide range of domains, ranging from locusts swarms to sports fans, to dialectal features. Another area for which such crowd-sourcing is indispensable is mapping election violations. As Vladimir Putin tearfully acknowledges his win in the March 4 presidential elections and thousands of demonstrators protest in downtown Moscow, reports of election violations are trickling in. Already in September 2011, the GOLOS Association, a US-government-funded Russian NGO, in cooperation with the Russian online newspaper, created the “Violation Map” project, aimed at crowd-sourced monitoring of electoral violations. Citizens can report what they believe to be infringements of their voting rights through an electronic form on the site, by phone, or via SMS messages; videos documenting alleged violations can also be uploaded to the site. Based on these reports, the site moderators create interactive maps of Russia, reflecting the number of violation reports in different regions of the country (see images). The parliamentary elections on December 4, 2011 drew over 7,800 reports to date, whereas the presidential election of March 4 has already drawn nearly 4,600 reports.

These reports do not necessarily give an accurate portrayal of the level of actual violations, but rather reflect the willingness of citizens to report them. Many such reports suggest that people not merely observed violations but purposefully checked to see if any irregularities were occurring, noting, for example, whether non-existent voters were registered at their addresses, and so on. Others recorded the license-plate numbers of cars and busses that took organized groups of “fake voters” from one polling place to another, where they would repeatedly engage in what quickly became known as “carrousel” voting. Observers also reported falsification of counting bulletins and other irregularities.

EdinayaRossiya2011The geographical distribution of these reports is curious. As can be expected, the largest number comes from Moscow, where demonstrations in December through February drew tens of thousands of protestors despite freezing temperatures. Many reports also come from southern Russia and the North Caucasus region, as well as from such far-flung areas as Murmansk in the north, Kaliningrad in the far west, and Vladivostok in the Far East. Vladivostok’s case is particularly instructive: the parliamentary election results from the Primorsky Krai (of which Vladivostok is the capital) showed one of the lowest levels of support for Putin’s United Russia party, 33% (see the Wikipedia map on the left which reflects the percentage of vote given to the United Russia party), and its long-term governor Sergei Darkin was replaced by a presidential decree just five days before the March 4 election. The new governor Vladimir Miklushevsky received his post with personal instructions from the outgoing president Dmitry Medvedev. Nonetheless, the March 4 election violation map already shows more reports from the region than the December 4 map. Comments posted by readers of the Russian newspaper Izvestija in response to an interview with Vladimir Miklushevsky suggest that the vote was influenced by deep distrust in the effectiveness of the federal government in combating corruption, high rate of crime, the economic dependence of the area on China and Japan, and other problems riddling the region.

Map_election_violations_December Another center of civil society visible on these election violation maps is the city of Samara (formerly Kuybyshev) in the central Volga region. After the December 4 election, 370 reports came in from Samara, Russia’s sixth-largest city, compared to the 111 from Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city (see map on the left). In less than 48 hours after the March 4 election, Samara had already clocked 188 reports, compared to the meager 21 reports from the much more complacent Novosibirsk.



Historically, Samara is not only an important economic, industrial, and cultural center of European Russia, but it also has an interesting political legacy. Although Samara was seized by the Bolsheviks in 1917, on 8 June 1918, with the armed support of the Czechoslovak Legion, it became the home of the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly, a Democratic counterrevolutionary government during the Russian Civil War. At its highest point, the “Democratic Counter-revolution” zone around Samara encompassed 12 million people. After four months, however, Samara fell to the Red Army. In 1921, Samara – formerly one of Russia’s largest wheat exporters – experienced an artificially created famine; efforts to support the dying inhabitants of the city were led by the famous polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen and the American Relief Administration headed by Herbert Hoover. During World War II, Kuybyshev (as Samara was then known) was chosen to be the capital of the USSR should Moscow fall to the invading Germans. From October 1941 until the summer of 1943, the Communist Party and governmental organizations, diplomatic missions of foreign countries, and leading cultural establishments were evacuated to the city; the so-called “Stalin’s Bunker” was constructed but never used. In the post-war period, Kuybyshev became a center of military and aerospace industry. Doubtless, this convoluted history informs the civil protests in Samara today.



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