Author Archives: melissaslemin

Guest Blog: “Russia’s Alice in Wonderland Democracy” by Peter Ordeshook and Misha Myagkov

Guest Blog
Russia’s Alice in Wonderland Democracy
Mikhail Myagkov and Peter C. Ordeshook

There is an Alice in Wonderland quality to Russian elections. The Kremlin lies about their democratic legitimacy, we know they are lying, they know we know they are lying … and so on. Yet we pretend that lies are truth, that Russia is a transitional democracy and legitimate member of the G8 and community of industrialized democracies, and the truth is something to be ignored.

Again we’ve been told that voters marched to the polls March 2 in unprecedented numbers to anoint Putin’s choice, Dimitry Mededvev, as president. Everyone knows it is absurd to call such events with their manipulations ‘elections’, even more so if we use the word ‘democratic’. With upwards of 10 million manufactured votes in 2004 and no fewer than that in the most recent balloting, the lie held sway along with a willingness to say and do anything to ensure a Kremlin landslide. We have for instance the ruling of a Moscow court denying a suit filed before the vote by an impotent Communist Party claiming unfair media coverage. The court justified its decision with words reminiscent of Alice’s Queen of Hearts: “election law does not define the term ‘equality of the candidates in campaign time in the mass media’ …the lack of a definition means that statistical analysis of the coverage is not admissible, and the only thing that matters is that all the candidates received some coverage.” Of course, not wanting to leave anything to chance and that all went according to plan, the Central Election Commission’s subcommittee to oversee vote counting consisted only of members of Putin’s party, United Russia.

Electoral fraud is a problem in developing democracies, and its isolated appearance in Russia in the 1990’s was ignored with the rationalization that the country had only recently stepped onto the road to democracy. Unfortunately, Putin moved things in a different direction. Electoral fraud metastasized to infect every region of the country and, in the form of outright ballot stuffing, is now conducted on an historic scale. At least this time Western organizations established to monitor elections refused to send observers to avoid being a part of the farce.

There is more to this, though, than a servile judiciary, intimidated voters, banned opponents, biased media, murdered journalists, jailed dissenters, and manipulated vote counts. We see here a manifestation of a Soviet-style regime that has taken root throughout Russia. In times past control was maintained thru the Communist Party wherein apparatchiks and functionaries knew their fates depended on subservience to the official state religion and to those who stood above them in the system’s hierarchy. Things are not much different today. Confronted by a Kremlin that controls all agents of coercion and where the lowest official can be imprisoned by Moscow for imaginary crimes, bureaucrats at every level strive to outdo each other in fidelity to the Kremlin.

There is little need, then, for the Kremlin to ‘officially’ demand a Soviet-style voter turnout in, say, war-torn Chechnya. Such a vote is forthcoming automatically by order of a Kremlin-appointed governor even if the final tally can be explained only by assuming that the mujahideen came down from their mountain hideaways to vote for their nemesis’s anointed successor. No official will be fined or jailed if it is proven that he manufactured votes, provided only that those votes went to the right candidate. Putin and Mededvev are popular and can win any free and fair vote, but the system is now incapable of such things.

This much is certain: Russia is not a democracy, transitional or otherwise. Allowing Putin or Mededvev to stand as a peer with the leaders of the industrialized democracies in the G8 or any other such entity is an undeserved gift borne of the lost promise of the 1990’s. If Russia warrants inclusion in this club, why not China which neither pretends to be something it isn’t nor demands that we accept a lie as the truth. Unique among authoritarian regimes, Russia pretends it is a democracy, and by acquiescing the West undermines its legitimacy when encouraging democracy elsewhere. It is time to acknowledge what Russia is and to do what the West can to keep its ‘autocratic disease’ from spreading. The spread of that disease is precisely what Putin sought when sending his election mechanics and spin doctors to Kiev in 2004 in the failed attempt to steal the Ukrainian presidency. That plan was foiled by the Ukrainian people, who found hope in the West’s refusal to treat a fraudulent outcome as legitimate. Since it isn’t in the character of the current Russian regime to resist pressing on with such attempts, the question is whether the true democracies of the world will continue to pretend that flamingos are croquet mallets, that Alice’s Queen of Hearts is a benevolent monarch, and that Russia is on a road to democracy.

Mikhail Myagkov is Professor of Political Science at the University of Oregon, Eugene Oregon USA and Peter C. Ordeshook is Professor of Political Science at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena California, USA. They are coauthors of the forthcoming book The Forensics of Electoral Fraud: With Applications to Russia and Ukraine.

New Mexico Election Audit: Day One

For those who have been watching the webcast of the New
Mexico Election audit project, you’ve no doubt seen that we
spent the morning training the audit team members, mainly
on the procedures associated with the machine recount of
precinct ballots. This afternoon we will continue with the
machine counting, but we will also be training audit teams
regarding the manual counting process. It’s been an interesting
morning, both in terms of improving our procedures as well as
seeing a number of interesting ballots and voter intent issues.

If you want to see the webcast, here’s the link.

University of New Mexico Collaboration

Michael Alvarez and Thad Hall are in New Mexico with Lonna Atkeson at the University of New Mexico where they are collaborating on a research project funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts “Make Voting Work” initiative, titled “Lessons for All in Determining Voter Intent and Election Integrity: A 2006 Post Election Audit Study of New Mexico’s Optical Scan Ballots in Bernalillo County, New Mexico.” Watch the audit online!

Update from the field, pt. 2

It looks like it’s going to be a looong night for ballot counters in L.A. County. Mike is reporting ‘brisk turnout’–the voters are getting out there! And, again, he is witnessing more provisional voting than in past years. This will make provisional ballot counting/verification a daunting and time-consuming task for election officials this evening.

Pollworker training still needed

A voter in Silverlake (in L.A. county) was asked to produce identification by a pollworker before he was allowed to cast a vote today. He is a naturalized citizen and informed the pollworker that he wasn’t required to do so, but the pollworker disagreed, so he complied.

Update from the field

Mike, Morgan, Paul and I witnessed slow to moderate voter turnout at the pollsites we observed this morning, but it looks as though things are picking up. Mike and Morgan are at a site on Vermont Street and are reporting that it is very busy, with voters waiting in line for about 10 minutes in line due to the volume of voters. Mike reports a heavy provisional ballot use at the site as well. Looks like there are some noticeably new voters out there!!

Super Tuesday in the news

After spending the better part of the day pollwatching, I’m back in the office checking the news for status reports of how Super Tuesday is going. Here are some stories.