Quick Look

Golos (Voice) has introduced several online tools for better election monitoring in Russia.

Beginning Date: 
April 26, 2000
Annual Budget 2007: 
Annual Budget 2008: 
Annual Budget 2009: 
Annual Budget 2010: 
How many unique hits per month?: 
Project Scale: 


Golos is an independent election observer in Russia that offers several online tools for better election monitoring: the Transparent Elections Hot Line [RU], which allows users to submit reports of electoral irregularities online and by phone, and the Fact Bank [RU], which serves as an online database of over 200 court decisions and proven electoral fraud facts, including audio and video evidence used in the court cases.

Both projects intend to help keep track of elections abuses in Russia and hope to make it harder for more abuses to occur. This type of data can be particularly helpful considering that the Duma (Parliament) election of 1999 and the presidential election of 2000 were the last elections recognized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) (PDF) as “consistent with internationally recognized democratic principles.”

Golos was founded in 2000. It works with election experts and civil society activists and is a permanent member of the ODIHR OSCE council and the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations. Its mission has now broadened from election monitoring to general support for civic initiatives.


Tell me a little about your project.: 

My name is Grigoriy Melkonyants, and I am the deputy executive editor of Golos. We began in 2000, and at first we had representatives in only 10 to 15 Russian regions. In December 2003, we launched a broader network in 30 regions with over 3,000 observers. It was our first time using special software to monitor the elections. It was a system to compare the official results and those that we had from our observers. The observers were sending their data from the electoral districts and we were comparing them to the official ones. The results showed that the official data actually matched our own.

Then, in 2004, on the eve of the presidential election, we decided to create an electoral hotline. Several phone operators received calls from citizens who wanted to report electoral irregularities. These operators would then post the information on our website. No one had done anything like this in Russia before. We decided to prolong this project — we bought the phone number 88003333350, registered the domain 88003333350.ru, and built a new Drupal-based website to collect election fraud reports.

What's your vision for the project?: 

Our general mission is to provide the conditions for free and fair elections. Our online tools are aimed at helping us and the electorate in this.

The vision of the Hotline is to give people a way to report suspected electoral fraud and to document it online. Sometimes people call with questions about how they should react to specific cases of electoral fraud, and we try to help them, particularly when we get multiple reports from the same area, but the most important thing for us is to report violations.

The mission of the Fact Bank is to document all proven cases of election fraud. Unlike the Hotline, the project stores only court decisions and proven fraud facts, as well as audio and video evidence used in the court cases. Over 200 cases have been documented so far.

We constantly improve our techniques for revealing electoral fraud. As you know, fraud techniques are getting more sophisticated. So we have to evolve with them. The number and variety of election law violations in Russia are also getting higher. We do both short- and long-term monitoring. We have representatives in more than 40 regions. After the elections, we issue the reports and send them to libraries and the authorities.

How does your work currently turn into offline change? : 

Monitoring the impact of our work is difficult, especially considering that information about cases where officials or politicians are punished for corruption is often silenced in Russia. It’s hard to speak about direct effects or linkages between our hotline and prosecutions, but in some cases we believe that our work has helped lead to an investigation where people were punished. During the October 2009 and March 2010 elections in Astrakhan, our hotline received reports of ballot box stuffing at the polls. At least two people were prosecuted and convicted. [Note: The interviewee was not explicit about whether it was the hotline report that started the legal process that ended in two convictions.]

One sign that we’re having some impact on citizens is that our web readership has grown from 2,600 unique visitors in March to nearly 4,000 in October. Right now we’re modernizing the resource so that people will be able to attach videos and photos to their reports. We are also implementing statistical functions to better analyze the reports we receive. In general, the website will be more convenient to use.

What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

Every election in Russia is like a fire, a disaster. However, no one wants to be a volunteer in this disaster. And we’re all victims of these manipulated elections. To prevent this situation we have to educate people. Sometimes people don’t even know they’re doing a bad thing — for example, when authorities force them to take part in the elections. This is the initial stage, and it’s really hard. The territory of the country is huge and we have limited resources. Even just to tell everyone our phone number, so that people would know how to call us, is difficult. Sometimes we manage to exchange banners with online media.

Another factor is GoNGOs (Government NGOs) — astroturfing organizations that imitate the election monitoring function, although they don’t do anything except say “the elections went OK”. Sometimes they hold press conferences on the same day, earlier than us, to attract journalists and announce their “results.” Of course, this stimulates us to work harder, but in fact it’s another way of misleading the electorate. Sometimes students that work with us are threatened by authorities in their universities.

Why do people use your tool?: 

Our online tools bring us to a new level. People are getting more independent in reporting frauds. Everyone can post and everyone can check and subsequently react.

What is your civic role?: 

The government doesn’t help us and makes certain obstacles for our functioning (astroturfing organizations, threats to employees, etc). We co-operate, however, with different opposition parties that monitor elections (for example, the Communist Party of Russia, Yabloko, SPS, and Pravoe Delo). But every year the number of party observers also decreases. Some political parties are convinced that the elections are all decided by pre-election arrangements.

Has your work been replicated?: 

No, it hasn’t been replicated.

Is your work a replication of another project?: 

No, the idea was ours, our know-how. We didn’t replicate it from anyone else.

What transparency/accountability organizations do you work with?: 

We’re a permanent member of the ODIHR OSCE council. Since 2005 we’ve been a member of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO). In 2010, we joined the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors. We co-operate with many organizations in Central and Eastern Europe. In Russia we cooperate with Transparency International and the Moscow Helsinki Group. Every year it gets harder to establish partnership relations with NGOs in Russia, because authorities put pressure on the organizations that work with us. For some it’s easier to function as the aforementioned astroturfing organizations that simply imitate election monitoring.


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