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Ahead of Russian Elections, a Hope that Tech Will Keep Them Clean

BY Raphael Majma | Monday, February 27 2012

Polls are currently predicting that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will win the March 4 first round Presidential election by a comfortable margin, and some online activists are hoping that their election-monitoring projects will keep the election clean.

The Rosvybory project promises to train people in becoming election observers and help them with the paperwork necessary to qualify as official election monitors. The project is the latest product of Alexei Navalny, a blogger turned activist whose previous efforts, RosPil and RosYama, followed a similar vein of anti-corruption efforts. Currently, the site has registered over 16,000 citizen volunteers. (Through a spokesperson, Navalny declined to comment.)

Yabloko, a social liberal party, wants voters to be able to take these tools with them in to the polling station. The ”I am an Observer” Android and iPhone app, created by Appsolute in conjunction with the Yabloko party, provides information on what observers need to look out for when monitoring a polling station. The app gives monitors a “cheat sheet” for each period of the voting process, including before the station opens, during the voting period, and when ballots are counted. The app also lets users send video, photo, and text-based information to a team of lawyers that are tasked with acting against potential fraud.

Even Putin is taking advantage of the trend to try and stem public distrust over the veracity of the election. He is expected to provide approximately 35,000 election observers and has currently installed a massive network of 54,000 cameras to monitor election-polling centers. The total number of cameras will reach approximately 182,000, which will stream footage of “ballot boxes and vote-counting” on election day.

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In 2010, Newsweek declared Iran the “birthplace of citizen journalism.” Iranian bloggers were hailed by Westerners as “brave” for their coverage of the aftermath of the disputed 2009 election. A 40-second video of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan during an anti-government protest won a prestigious George Polk Award, the first anonymously-produced work to be so honored. And then came the 2013 study “Whither Blogestan,” which sought to explain Iran's shrinking blogosphere. Of nearly 25,000 highly active and connected blogs in 2008 and 2009, only 20 percent were still online in September 2013.

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