. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ballot Fraud: Not If, but How Much

As candidates fling accusations that their opponents are planning to stuff ballot boxes on June 16, analysts can only agree: That is exactly what they intend to do. The only question is who will be the most effective and how much it will influence the final result.

Last week, Yeltsin's adviser Georgy Satarov accused the Communists of stuffing ballot boxes during the 1995 State Duma elections, and of planning to do so again in June. Satarov said the Communists plan to mobilize enough elections observers to cover all of Russia's 97,000 poll sites or precincts, "flooding" poll sites so that "in the resulting disorder it will be easier for them to falsify the results."

The Communists say Yeltsin will rig the election by leaning on Nikolai Ryabov, his appointment as boss of Russia's Central Election Commission, In fact, political analysts take it as a given that both the Yeltsin and Zyuganov teams will cheat, using the very different means at their disposal.

Most observers argue, however, that it is Yeltsin who will have the easiest run in rigging the vote by using his control of the higher levels of Russia's electoral bureaucracy. He and the nation's governors wield influence over the 2,700 "territorial" elections commissions and over commissions for Russia's 89 regions.

"It will be very easy," said Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Observer control at the polls in no way guarantees there won't be falsification higher up the chain. Neither Ryabov nor anyone else is required to publish regional results in a timely fashion, and in that sense it is a done deal, because no one else is in a position to verify the vote independently.

"It will come out six months later, when emotions have cooled and no one will care," said Petrov.

The Communists on the other hand will seek to rig the vote by using the hundreds of thousands of dedicated activists, particularly in rural regions, where they often control local polling precincts.

"The more primitive forms of falsification, such as the physical, literal stuffing of ballot boxes with fake votes, this requires a lot of man hours, a lot of labor. This plays to Communist strengths at the precinct level," said Petrov. "But at the territorial or regional level, you just need a single person -- one chairman of the commission willing to cross out one number and write in a new one."

Certainly, elections fraud would not be new to Russia.

The 1993 parliamentary elections and the accompanying vote on the Russian constitution were widely criticized. Western observers were barred from the CEC's Moscow headquarters during the vote count. Official results were not published within the 10 days required by law, but more than two months later -- and then only partially; the CEC has still not published a detailed regional accounting, despite three separate official requests to do so from the Duma.

A presidential commission headed by Alexander Sobyanin and charged with analyzing that vote later concluded the turnout had been falsified by 9 million votes. Those findings suggested the Constitution itself was invalid because its approval required a 50 percent turnout. The day they were published in Izvestia, Sobyanin's team was barred from its offices and their archives were confiscated.

Unlike the 1993 vote, the 1995 Duma elections were initially hailed as fair. Important exceptions came from the Caucasus: In Chechnya, foreign journalists reported waltzing into polling stations to cast as many votes as they wished for whomever they liked; the eventual turnout of 96 percent also suggested ballot stuffing.

In March 1996, the CEC published some regional data for 1995 (though again, not to the precinct level) in a three-volume set. Sobyanin, working independently, and other analysts have only recently begun to make charges based on those data.

Andrei Beryozkin, who studies Russian regional politics, latched on to a curious new CEC statistic offered in the 1995 breakdown -- the number of people who voted in the so-called "movable ballot box," which is provided for citizens too old or infirm to travel to the polls. The national average of 4.6 percent raised few eyebrows. But at the regional level, Beryozkin came across territorial precincts where 40 percent of the vote was cast in the "movable box."

The same precincts that saw unusually active "mobile ballot box" voting also saw the Communists and their allies doing unusually well -- a correlation Beryozkin called "evidence, but not proof, that falsification is occurring."

Sobyanin, meanwhile, argued that the 1995 elections were even more corrupt than 1993, with 14 million votes faked -- or every fifth ballot. But he is virtually alone in charging that level of fraud, which he says was divided among several parties.

The Yabloko party and the Communists earlier this month tried to force a law through the Duma tightening public control of the vote. However, the law has been delayed by the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, and will likely not be in force for the next round of elections. Had it been passed, the law would have allowed any Russian citizen to become an official elections observer simply by gathering 10 signatures. It insisted protocols be written in ink, not pencil, with the total spelled out in words and in numbers, and pushed up the deadline for publishing results to three days.

, instead of one month, and required an audit of 2 percent of all precincts, selected at random, one day after the vote.

"Only 20 percent of polling precincts were monitored by independent observers in 1995. Even then, in the majority of those precincts, chairmen refused to give up copies of the protocol [the official tally]. Foreign observers were treated well, but as a rule, local observers were ignored," Sobyanin said.