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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The CEC vs. The Moscow Times

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The Central Election Commission makes a handful of arguments against our Sept. 9, 2000 elections fraud expose. I'll take them one by one. Quotes from the CEC are in italics.

"Back on June 28, 2000, and on July 10, 2000 -- in other words, long before her September publication -- Moscow Times journalist Y[evgenia] Borisova asked the CEC press service for information for an article about the presidential elections. Her request was met. However, a significant amount of the information provided was not brought to her readers. Moreover, some facts and statements were altered ..."

This is my favorite part. Because unless we were clairvoyant, the August sinking of the Kursk obviously had nothing to do with our decision to prepare an electoral fraud article -- the CEC itself confirms we were working on it as early as June 28.

In other words, we aren't using the deaths of the Kursk to our own ends -- the CEC is.

I also indulge a chuckle at the indignation over our failure to print all the information the CEC ever gave us. As if the CEC in its entire history has ever met a journalist so dutifully loyal. Or did the elections officials think we'd just reprint their entire web site?

Less amusing is the suggestion we changed some of the facts and quotes we got. But without concrete examples, this is just sour grapes.

"The Moscow Times reports: ?A State Duma commission ... under Communist Party Deputy Alexander Saly has extrapolated from documents to assert that about 700,000 votes in Dagestan must have been wrongly awarded to Putin.' "

The CEC then continues with a long passage taking apart Saly. The implication is that our report is somehow based on Saly's work. This is dishonest. Consider just the rest of the same quote from our report -- which the CEC omits:

"But [Saly's] methodology, as laid out in an April 27 issue of Rossisskaya Gazeta, is highly questionable. And inexplicably, Saly's team has apparently only made intelligent use of about half of the hundreds of protocols it has collected. (A "protocol" is a certificate of a precinct's official vote tally.) Moreover, when Saly was asked to share copies of at least some of his findings with The Moscow Times, he agreed to show only some of the protocols and joked that Zyuganov kept the rest in a folder with him.

"A more conservative calculation by The Moscow Times -- one that assumes fraud in the precincts that would not give out protocols was no worse than it was in those that did -- settled on a figure of about 551,000 votes that were crudely falsified in this way. In other words: After a visit to Dagestan alone, it is possible to challenge almost a fourth of Putin's national margin of victory as highly questionable."

"Since, as the saying goes, a stone was also thrown into the garden of international [election] observers ... we will give the floor to Hrair Balian, head of the Election Section of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ..."

The CEC then quotes Balian at length. What they don't say is that they are quoting Balian's letter to the editor, as published at length in The Moscow Times. We have already replied, at length, to Balian. ( www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2000/10/28/005.html)

"We turn to the question of changes in the numbers of voters on the voting rolls."

Finally!

The CEC accepts our original set of premises -- that there were 1.3 million more people registered for the March presidential election than there were for the December Duma elections -- and that this is significant because voters are automatically registered in Russia, so the appearance of 1.3 million new voters requires explanation.

To me, the CEC accepting these basic premises takes a huge burden of proof off the newspaper's shoulders.

The CEC then notes -- as did we -- that 500,000 of those 1.3 million voters represent Chechnya. That leaves about 800,000 additional votes to explain.

The Chechens were not allowed to vote in December -- but were rushed into the rolls for March. Miracle of miracles, they voted for Putin! The CEC whistles and hurries past a minor point: The same OSCE observers it has just so approvingly cited above had actually

refused to recognize the legitimacy of the voting in Chechnya. (Yet another example of the value the CEC places on an intellectually honest approach.)

"And now a more detailed look at these 800,000 voters, who supposedly appeared from nowhere. Analysis of the data about changes in the voting rolls shows that the reasons for the increase are basically two: "double counting" and demographic factors."

Nachinayetsya!

What follows is too tangled to quote, so I will paraphrase. (Remember, you can always go to www.fci.ru/express_info/opr.htm to read the entire mess yourself).

The CEC says the presidential election was the first time in Russian electoral history that people were allowed to vote outside of their voting precinct without an absentee ballot -- and that this led to some people, but not their votes, being registered twice.

This is news to us. Until the very last day before the election, the CEC was running television advertisements insisting that anyone who wanted to vote away from home must first arrange an absentee ballot.

Legally, it is possible for a would-be voter or group of voters who are far from home on election day to apply to the courts and receive a one-off ruling allowing them to vote without an absentee ballot. But keep in mind that the Russian judicial system -- unlike, say, the American -- is not based on precedent. A court ruling does not become part of the broader law and extend to similar cases -- that requires an act of legislation.

It's probably the most masterful bit of obfuscation in the CEC's critique that it pretends this isn't so. It cites "one of the typical judicial decisions -- a decision by the Blagoveshchensk city court" to let patients in a hospital there, who were physically unable to go collect absentee ballots, vote anyway.

Then it starts listing statistics about all the sorts of people who might be away from home without an absentee ballot on election day: students, sailors, fishermen, people in hospitals, people in jails, etc. It says there are 1.6 million people in hospitals, 195,000 people in jail, etc.

We looked into this. It turns out there really was such a decision by the Blagoveshchensk city court -- involving the December Duma elections. Not the presidential election. That means that not even those same patients in Blagoveshchensk could double-vote in the presidential elections -- not without a new judicial ruling.

We called the local electoral commission in Blagoveshchensk and spoke with the head of it, Yury Mikov. He said that when the court ruled that a handful of patients in hospitals could vote in December, his commission contacted each patient's home district and had them removed from the rolls at home.

The CEC could not or would not provide us with a relevant judicial ruling that involved the presidential race. (Even if you accept their argument that "double-counting" occurred and was significant -- which we don't -- then by their logic, citing such a case of double-counting for the Duma elections works against them: Their whole point hinges on the idea that double-counting was first practiced in the presidential election.)

"The demographic factor involved the [im]migration of citizens of the Russian Federation from [abroad] ... the receiving of Russian Federation citizenship [by new immigrants] ... and Russian citizens who turned 18 [between December and March] ... As of Jan. 1, 2000, there were 2.239 million 18-year-olds in Russia. It follows that in the period from December 1999 to March 2000, no less than several hundred thousand people turned 18 and were included in the list of voters. Of course, one can't forget there is also a natural decline of the nation's older population ..."

Yeah, a catastrophic decline usually only seen in time of war, according to everyone from President Putin on down. And when the population is declining, of course, the pool of registered voters should be shrinking even more rapidly: Each year's deaths overwhelmingly represent lost voters -- while not a single new birth represents a new voter.

We dealt with this demographic argument extensively in our original report. We talked to American and Russian demographers, to the State Statistics Committee, to everyone we could think of. All agreed that demographic factors -- including birth/death ratios, migration, immigration and others -- could not explain the appearance of anything like 800,000 new voters.

Here, again, I'll quote -- with apologies for the length, though if you've read this far it hardly matters -- from the original Moscow Times report:

"State Statistics Committee data for the first three months of 2000 -- which covers most of the period between the two national elections -- show the nation lost another 235,100 people to the discrepancy between the birth-death rate. At the same time, the statistics committee reports a mere 53,000 people immigrating from abroad. In other words, between the elections the country effectively lost 182,100 people, presumably most of them voters.

"It is still possible, of course, that even as the population shrank, the number of voters grew, provided that hundreds of thousands of people turned 18 between December 1999 and March 2000 -- in other words, provided that there was a baby boom about 18 years ago.

"But there wasn't.

"Murray Feshbach, a professor at Georgetown University specializing in Russian demography, pronounced himself "very confused by these data" from the CEC ...

"Feshbach, who made his name in demographics debunking falsified Soviet census data in the Stalin era, said various data on the Soviet population showed no significant spike in births over all of 1981 and 1982 -- which was 18 years ago.

"Yevgeny Andreyev, a demography expert with the Institute of National Economic Forecasting, came to the same conclusion as Feshbach after studying much the same population data ...

" ?The explanation of a boost in the numbers of 18-year-olds is not satisfactory. ... [P]erhaps this boom is just made up,' Andreyev said.

"Statisticians with the State Statistics Committee were equally flummoxed.

" ?[The Central Election Commission] is taking liberties with the truth when they explain such a figure with a boost in the 18-year-old population and immigration,' said Irina Rakhmaninova, head of the committee's department tracking the national population.

"And did Russia's jails release 1.3 million convicts back into the voting rolls? No. According to the Justice Ministry's Prison Department, the number of prisoners increased -- and the number of voters decreased -- by 38,000 in the first three months of 2000."

"Of 10 losing candidates for the post of president of Russia, only one, Gennady Zyuganov, complained to the CEC. ... Many candidates, on the contrary, expressed either orally or in written form their gratitude to the election organizers for their principaled and professional work."

Frankly, we don't care what Zyuganov does, or what the other candidates do either. The CEC tries to subtly link us to the Communist Party throughout its critique. We were careful to distance ourselves from Zyuganov, and the Communists surely have their own reasons for so lamely pursuing the fraud issue.

The CEC also notes, with satisfaction, how few legal challenges have been brought by citizens. We addressed that as well in the original report: Citizens who complained to the courts were sent to prosecutors, those who complained to prosecutors were sent to the courts. In some places, such as Dagestan and Tatarstan, citizens told us they would have liked to complain, but were afraid, or saw it as pointless and risky. Which it clearly would have been.

And so another academic exercise involving Russian democracy comes to a close. Next up: A totally fraud-free set of national elections in 2004! (Assuming they're held). And remember: If you see cheating, and expose it -- and then a plane crashes, or the Ostankino television tower catches fire again -- then it all might be seen as part of a larger conspiracy.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a Washington-based fellow of The Nation Institute [www.thenation.com].