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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Check Lists, Keep Cranks Off Ballot

Pity the Central Election Commission, however imperfect an institution it may be.


In the wake of Wednesday's Supreme Court decision forcing the commission to admit Vladimir Bryntsalov onto the presidential ballot, the commission now faces the prospect of having to count and accept the petitions of perhaps dozens or conceivably even as many as 78 presidential hopefuls, no matter how hopeless they are.


After that the commission would have to arrange equal television air time for the candidates and provide each with a slice of the roughly $820,000 of state money available for the campaign, not to mention the increased labor involved in calculating the results.


The rights and wrongs of the Bryntsalov case are not easy to judge. It is clear that the commission's methodology for weeding out fake signatures is less than scientific -- they appear to rely primarily on "intuition." Any court must think twice before accepting the intuition of a body widely believed to have a political agenda as the deciding factor in who can and who cannot run for president.


The election commission must improve the way it tests signatures so that in the future it can persuade a court of law that its judgement is based on more than whim.


But then there has been so much evidence that the collection of signatures for Russian elections is a business in which agents buy or fake signatures for reward, that the commission's "intuition" in Bryntsalov's case seems more than plausible. And most of the 78 candidates who have declared an interest in running the Kremlin should probably be disqualified before June 16.


Unfortunately, unlike in other countries that use signature collection to filter presidential candidates, neither the signature lists nor the addresses of the population at large are usefully computerized in Russia.


To check names, dates and addresses in the census is an all but impossible task.


And if it appears to commission staffers that no matter what they say the courts will allow candidates into the race, the risk is that they will not stir themselves at all to process the truckloads of signatures that will appear on their doorsteps in the coming days.


As is the case with so many things in Russia, there may be no good, instant solution to the problem of how to keep crank candidates off the ballot. But the Central Election Commission should at least look into using handwriting experts and some simple detective work to test for forged signatures.


If it does not, the development of a fair and effective electoral system in Russia can only be harmed because publicity seekers and other no-hopers will be able to get cash and television air-time every four years simply by buying or faking a million signatures.