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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Electoral Fraud Revisited

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I had to chuckle when told that Gennady Zyuganov had just been sent a copy of The Moscow Times' three-year-old investigation into fraud and falsification in Vladimir Putin's election.

Judging from my e-mail box, that September 2000 report is getting attention. Some are dusting it off with thoughts of preventing fraud in 2004, others in search of tips on observing it in action. I have no idea why Zyuganov would want it, though, since we described in the report how unhelpful his Communist Party was in assembling it.

There were about 95,000 voting precincts in the 2000 presidential election, and at each, ballots were counted locally and recorded in a "protocol." So the most basic way to audit the process was to go to the local level and obtain copies of protocols -- and then see if they were reported accurately higher up the chain.

Only the Communists could come close to fielding observers in 95,000 precincts, so we asked them in particular to share. They obliged with a tiny handful of documents from Dagestan (we had some of the same documents, so we knew they weren't forgeries). But when we asked to see more, we were told Zyuganov kept the rest with him "in a folder," and so we were out of luck.

Yet even with less than one-fifth of Dagestan's protocols in hand, we were still able to identify definitively 87,000 votes subtracted from other candidates and given to Putin (or 3.9 percent of his 2.2 million-vote victory margin).

We reasoned the other four-fifths of Dagestan was probably little better -- because this agreed with our anecdotal reporting on the ground, and also because precincts that had kicked out observers and classified the protocols seemed, if anything, to have more to hide. So we extrapolated that in Dagestan alone, it was already possible to see almost a quarter of Putin's victory margin as highly questionable.

Dagestan stood out, moreover, mostly for hosting the most oafish fraud: lying in the capital about what was already published in the provinces. We detailed other evidence of fraud and falsification, some of which at least tried to be more subtle, in Chechnya, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Saratov, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kursk, Mordovia, Kaliningrad and Nizhny Novgorod -- regions that represented millions of votes. All told, it was hard to imagine how fraud could not have been decisive, given Putin's 2.2 million-vote victory.

But enough math. Anyone who wants more -- including ad nauseam about how hundreds of thousands of extra voters magically appeared for the vote -- can go to

Our report was not just numbers. We interviewed voters who had had pens snatched from their hands and their ballots checked for them. We cited open letters from entire villages protesting how their votes had been hijacked. We quoted citizens who recounted seeing election registration rolls that described their apartment buildings as having fictional extra floors -- with fictional extra apartments, no doubt filled with Putin supporters.

We reported on voters who were told that they would lose their jobs, or their apartments, or their social welfare payments, unless they voted correctly.

Since its publication, the report has often been dismissed. Some shrug and say that everyone already knew elections were rigged; others gnaw and worry at the numbers.

Neither approach pays much attention to the voices of angry, disillusioned, cheated citizens.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a fellow of The Nation Institute [].