Putin Banking on Victory in First Round

Acting President Vladimir Putin has said Russia simply cannot afford not to elect him outright Sunday.

Speaking on national television over the weekend, Putin said that if Russia failed to elect him in the first round - which he said would cost $50 million - a second round would cost $36 million, money that should go to the people instead.

"This is nearly as much as all the pensions paid in the Moscow region," Putin said in an interview broadcast on ORT.

A recent slight dip in his ratings has taken Putin close to the 50 percent of the vote he will need to sail through in the first round. But he is far ahead of his rivals and has little fear of losing even if the voting goes to a second round.

Putin insists he has the country's best interests at heart when he says voters would do best to elect him the first time around.

The Central Election Commission, breaking down the costs of holding elections a bit differently, said the first round will run approximately $62 million and a second round would be an additional $29 million.

Whether he's using the cost of a second round of elections to help his campaign or not, "Putin's suggestion is a logical one for any country that could use $36 million for other purposes," Ray Kennedy of the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems said Tuesday.

CEC head Alexander Veshnyakov, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio Tuesday, said that should a second round not take place, the $29 million would be returned to the federal budget.

Alexander Yurin of the Institute for Election System Development in Russia, a nonprofit organization funded by IFES, said the predicted costs of holding Russia's presidential elections were not out of line. December's State Duma elections cost the country $57 million, although the process was more complex, he said.

When compared to other countries, including the United States, the costs in Russia do not appear high at all, Kennedy said.

Russia has 107 million registered voters, which means that the first round would cost 58 cents per voter, while a second round would cost 27 cents per voter.

Though there are no exact figures available for the cost of voting operations in the United States, IFES estimates them to be between $1 and $3 per voter.

Kennedy said the most expensive elections to date have been in Africa where voting operations have been recorded to cost between $15 and $20 per voter.

Comparing voting operations costs for different countries, however, is like comparing apples to oranges, Kennedy said, because it isn't clear how these costs are determined.

Voting operations typically include the cost of paper and printing for ballots, ballot boxes, ballot box seals, computers and computer maintenance and staffing. And in a country the size of Russia, these costs can add up. Russia has 92,000 polling stations, and transport of ballots to and from the country's many remote regions adds to the bill.

But not all costs are typical.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party was first struck from the ballot and then put back on after the ballots had already been printed.

Getting ballots to 107 million voters across 11 time zones for a second time isn't cheap. Veshnyakov said it would cost at least $780,000 to replace the ballots, not including transportation.

Zhirinovsky on Tuesday said he would consider bowing out of the election in order to give support to other candidates opposing Putin.

According to Putin, saving money is what it's all about. He has gone after what he calls the "amoral" groups that are urging people to vote protiv vsekh, or for "none of the above," saying they could derail the election and single-handedly cost Russia tens of millions of dollars.

But if Putin is really primarily concerned with saving Russia money, Yurin said he has a better solution: "Don't have elections at all."