Sunday, April 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Vote Counting in Moscow Approaches ‘Caucasus’ or Even ‘Soviet’ Standards

Paul Goble

Baku, April 26 – Most critics of the ways in which voting in Russia’s parliamentary and presidential elections took place have focused on the obvious falsifications in the results in the republics of the North Caucasus, but two geographers from the Academy of Sciences demonstrate that the way the votes were counted in the Russian capital was not that much better.
Indeed, in an article that appeared in Novaya gazeta on Thursday, Dmitry Oreshkin and Vladimir Kozlov of the Academy’s Institute of Geography, document the way in which officials falsified the results and suggest that Moscow elections are rapidly approaching “’Caucasian’ or even ‘Soviet’ standards” (
The two scholars show on the basis of careful statistical analysis of the city’s various election districts, “manipulation of the results of parliamentary and presidential elections [in the Russian capital just as in many other places] exceeded the most outlandish predictions of the most distrustful analysts.”
“Officially published data,” the geographers argue, shows four remarkable things about these two elections. First, “before the December Duma elections, the adult population of Moscow increased by 174,000 and before the presidential one decreased by exactly the same amount.”
Second, they point out, “among the precincts with the highest figures of support for Dmitry Medvedev, there were no regions where electronic voting was used. Among precincts with the lowest results [for him], there were more than half.”
Third, “In 345 of the 3300 Moscow precincts participation was at 90 percent or above, and in 164 of them, it was 100 percent,” [with in almost every case] all the voters coming to the polls in the course of the last hour” these voting places were open or with the total number of electors changed dramatically between November and March.
And fourth, the geographers suggest on the basis of their analysis of government data, “the number of ‘extra’ ballots found in the voting boxes in Moscow was 642,000. Almost all of them were in support of the candidate of the authorities,” Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev.
In the course of documenting each of these, Oreshkin and Kozlov suggest some of the reasons for their concern about the future and some of the ways those in Russia who would like to have free and fair elections should be pursuing if that country is not to slide back to the totally falsified votes of the past.
They note that “where for whatever reasons, voting took place under the particular attention of observers or journalists,” officials were constrained from falsifying the results. Indeed, they point out, one obvious example of this was that in those precincts where journalists covered the votes of leading figures, participation rates were lower.
In short, Oreshkin and Kozlov say, “the more television cameras, the lower the participation rate” -- exactly the reverse of the usual “collective farm rules.”
Moreover, they note, because the Kremlin turned the presidential vote into a referendum, boosting participation rates by cutting the number of eligible voters one way or another was an almost universal phenomenon in the Russian capital, but “unfortunately,[officials] in Moscow were able to raise participation rates” by other means, including falsifying returns.
That is suggested, they say, by the dramatic and unsupportable numbers of voters who supposedly rushed to the polls in the last hour, something observation of precincts suggests did not happen, and by radically different results in precincts whose political ecology was almost identical.
And yet another indication of official malfeasance in the counting of votes, they say, is the dramatically rates of participation and support for Medvedev reported where there was hand counting of paper ballots, any of which can be falsified with ease, than in precincts where ballots were processed electronically.
In fact, they say, had all ballots been processed electronically, Medvedev would have received 642,000 fewer votes in Moscow than he did. He still would have won but by a much lower percentage. And that figure, the two geographers suggest, is the best global measure of how much falsification there was in Moscow.
Oreshkin and Kozlov offer three other conclusions. First, they say, the elections in Moscow were not honest. Second, the number of election problems there has been increasing rather than falling. And third, backers of honest elections can still hope to promote them through the use of observers, electronic voting, and public support for those on election boards – admittedly a “minority” -- who are want to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, the scholars say, too many critics of the Russian elections limit themselves to denunciations of what has taken place rather than getting involved in the hard and less public work of improving the situation. And consequently, loyal Russian voters have been left in a situation where they must be either cynics or fools about what their government is doing.

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