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Novaya Gazeta, January 29, 2004

Elections 2003: Dead Souls Overcame the Five Per Cent Barrier.
Over 3.5 million false ballot papers were added

By Orkhan Dzhemal

On January 26, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delivered its verdict on Russia's parliamentary elections. The verdict was as follows: "Free, but not fair."

British MP David Atkinson (who was an observer at the December 7 elections) said that the whole election campaign had been "intrinsically and fundamentally flawed, so these elections could not be described as fair."

Mikhail Margelov, Russia's representative at the PACE, interpreted Atkinson's words in a curious manner: "No one in the Council of Europe is questioning the democratic nature of the Duma elections in Russia."

It's not entirely clear what the PACE meant by saying the elections were "free." Perhaps it's a reference to the fact that voting was not compulsory: people could vote or not, as they pleased. Perhaps it was the fact that several parties were listed on the ballot papers, after all, and voters could freely choose among them.

But this is essentially a "sucker's game" kind of freedom: it's up to you to decide whether to play or not, but if you do decide to join the game, there can be no arguing - the outcome is known in advance.

The definition of "not fair" is reasonably clear.

Shortly before the elections, three parties - the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), YABLOKO, and the Communist Party (CPRF) - agreed to work together in monitoring the vote. The joint observers were supposed to work for all three parties simultaneously. In addition the Communists created the FairGame system: their own electronic vote-counting system. It operated in parallel with GAS-Vibory, the computer system used by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).

The idea of creating the FairGame system came from the former YUKOS executive Ilya Ponomaryov. It's not a complicated system in technical terms; FairGame consists of a few workstations, a server, and some fairly simple software. Observers receive copies of protocols at polling stations; then they contact FairGame operators by phone or e-mail to report their data, and the computer sums up the figures to produce a final result.

The same principle is used for GAS-Vibory, the official electronic vote-counting system. The only significant difference is that FairGame uses open communication channels, while GAS-Vibory uses the secure channels of FAPSI (the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information). And there is another important distinction: FairGame gets its data from the very lowest levels of the electoral commission pyramid - the polling stations.Nobody knows what the secrecy-bound GAS-Vibory system receives. The operators entering data into GAS-Vibory are not electoral commission members, but officers of FAPSI, which is one of the secret services; naturally, observers are not present during the data entry process for GAS-Vibory. Exactly what the operators enter into the computer - data from the regions, or some kind of figures provided in advance - remains unknown.

There were around 500,000 joint observers, and 92,000 polling stations. We can say with confidence that the observers covered almost every polling station. Within a day of the vote, it had become clear that the figures provided by the unofficial electronic count differed from the official CEC figures.

First of all, a discrepancy was found between the number of ballot papers initially issued and the total number which were valid, invalid, annulled, and so on. This can only mean one thing: additional ballot papers were physically added. The operators of FairGame claim that a total of 3.5 million ballot papers were added nationwide.

The greatest number of such violations were detected in Kurgan region, Rostov region, Samara region, Orel region, Tver region, Stavropol Territory, Dagestan, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan. Moscow was also among the leaders in terms of added ballot papers, although it's usually believed that crude election fraud is rare in the capital.

What's more, it immediately became clear that YABLOKO and the SPS had indeed crossed the 5% threshold, while United Russia had obtained 3-4% less of the vote than its official result indicated.

YABLOKO took the next step in the efforts to expose election fraud. From December 12, the YABLOKO analytical centre started comparing paper copies of protocols, compiled at polling stations in the presence of observers immediately after votes were counted and signed by members of electoral commissions, with the figures reported to the CEC by regional electoral commissions. This is an extremely labour-intensive task, since it involved checking 92,000 polling stations. After two months of verification, YABLOKO found that in 10% of cases the data reported by regional electoral commission bore no relation to the figures on paper copies of protocols from polling stations.

The greatest amount of falsification involved voter turnout figures. Some regional electoral commissions boosted voter turnout by up to 50%. (Such incidents were described in an article entitled "Did we really vote all together?" - "Novaya Gazeta" No. 3, 2004.)

What motivated the regional electoral commissions to distort the vote-count data? Who coordinated the falsification? Ilya Ponomaryov, head of the CPRF information technology centre, told us that figures for the CPRF reported from Dagestan were not based on any count of actual votes. They resulted from a bargaining process: the Dagestan branch of the CPRF and representatives of the CPRF Central Committee did a deal with the leadership of Dagestan (!). That is, not with the Dagestan electoral commission, but with the top state officials in the administration of Dagestan.

According to Ponomaryov, an even more abnormal situation was seen in Ingushetia. The Eurasian Party of Russia won there. The success of the Eurasian Party in Ingushetia is understandable: among the top three names on its electoral list was Ruslan Aushev, the popular former president of Ingushetia. In Ingushetia, the Eurasian Party got more votes than United Russia.

Galina Mikhalyova, head of the YABLOKO analytical centre, confirms that there was falsification and widespread fraud at regional electoral commissions; she believes this was done under pressure from regional administrations.

There is yet another aspect to this whole story. The main mission of the CEC is to ensure that elections are fair, so it would seem logical for the CEC to have an interest in encouraging all additional verification and exposure methods. However, soon after the elections, CEC Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said he did not believe the alternative vote-count was honest, as data entry for FairGame was done at an unknown location in London, by unidentified people: "How can it be a fair game when those behind it conceal their identity?"

We decided to investigate this issue, and found that the FairGame data entry operators were in Moscow; only the server was located outside Russia, and this was done to protect its data from any external interference. At the time Veshnyakov made his statement, it had already been announced that FairGame belonged to the CPRF.

Veshnyakov was indignant: "You speak of discrepancies! But when you take a closer look, it's only a matter of one vote here, two votes there, five votes somewhere else. Yes, people should be penalized for these discrepancies - but you can't possibly question the outcome to the extent you're doing!"

Yet it eventually turned out that the figures based on 60,000 protocols, or two-thirds of the total number of protocols, do not coincide with the results announced by the CEC.

Let's go back to a statement quoted at the start of the article. Mikhail Margelov, serving as deputy speaker at the PACE, considers an election in which two-thirds of the results did not reflect reality to be a democratic election. In that case, it's natural to ask what would have to happen for an election not to be recognized as democratic.


See also:

State Duma elections 2003

Novaya Gazeta, January 29, 2004

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