A Russian researcher known for detailed analyses of past elections says fraud was a major factor in the State Duma election victory of the ruling United Russia party.
Sergei Shpilkin, who published his analysis on September 21, two days after the Duma election concluded, said that, without vote manipulation, the Kremlin-backed party would have likely received around 31-33 percent of ballots in the party-list voting -- not the nearly 50 percent reported by the Central Election Commission.
Shpilkin’s analysis adds to the growing clouds looming over the vote, which was already under suspicion due to the concentrated state crackdown on the alternative voter-guide strategy promoted by jailed corruption crusader Aleksei Navalny, among other things.
The preliminary results released by the Central Election Commission indicate that United Russia preserved its two-thirds majority in the Duma, which would enable it to pass major legislation and even constitutional amendments without help from other parties.
In 2020, the Duma voted for amendments that allow President Vladimir Putin to seek two more six-year terms after his current tenure ends in 2024. He has not indicated whether he will.
United Russia’s success came even as preelection polls showed the party’s approval ratings were below 30 percent – the worst in its roughly two decades of existence.
In his analysis published on Facebook, Shpilkin, a physicist by training, estimated that United Russia's genuine support was between 31 and 33 percent.
Shpilikin also estimated that nationwide turnout was likely 38 percent of voters, compared with the official figure of 52 percent.
His analysis was based on data across the country’s 97,000 individual polling stations, examining outlier polling stations where high turnout was reported as well as high vote tallies for United Russia.
Among the biggest clouds hanging over the results is the new electronic voting system that was used in Moscow and six other locations this year. Election authorities billed the system as a way to help minimize the dangers of COVID-19, which has hit Russia hard.
But outside observers and independent election experts say it’s impossible to access and analyze the raw data, leaving the door open to manipulation.
Experts have already identified several districts in Moscow where results are unusual, particularly compared with past election patterns; the release of early results on September 20 was postponed several times.
As a result, out of 15 Moscow single-mandate districts, eight that initially had opposition candidates in the lead eventually ended up going to United Russia candidates.
Electronic voting is "an absolute evil, a black box that no one controls," Shpilkin wrote.
"It is impossible to investigate a million votes piled up in one heap - you can analyze an array of numbers. But in the case of the results of electronic voting, we are shown only the results of several parties and one number on the turnout. There are simply not enough details for analysis," he said.
Shpilkin gained widespread attention in 2012 for his statistical analysis of the 2011 election for the Duma and regional legislatures. He concluded the vote was tainted by fraud.
His jagged chart representation of alleged fraud in the 2018 vote gave rise to the term "Churov’s Saw" -- a reference to the head of the Central Election Commission at the time, Vladimir Churov, who oversaw several elections rife with allegations of manipulation.