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Novaya Gazeta, March 11, 2004

Election Fraud
The Central Electoral Commission responds to Duma election complaints

By Orkhan Dzhemal

Three days from now, the presidential election will be over - and the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) is bound to receive numerous complaints of unfairness. Meanwhile, the CEC has only just completed investigating complaints received after the parliamentary elections.
The leading cause of grievances during the parliamentary elections concerned inaccurate counting of votes cast for the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko, as a result of which these parties are no longer represented in the Duma.
There were some grounds for finding fault with the CEC. The SPS, Yabloko, and the Communist Party (CPRF) cooperated to collect data from their observers and feed the numbers into the Fair Game vote-counting system, an alternative to GAS-Vybory, the state's official electronic vote-counting system. The results were not the same. The CEC needed to explain the discrepancies: after all, both systems were supposed to be using the same original figures.
According to our sources, CEC Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov ordered an in-depth investigation at the lower levels of electoral commissions, and several days ago the parties which had lodged complaints received a reply. In our view, this is sensational news.

From the CEC's official response to CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov: "The CEC, together with the electoral commissions of the Oryol, Rostov, Samara, and Tver regions... and in a number of cases with the involvement of CPRF representatives, has investigated discrepancies between data contained in the copies of No. 2 protocols you supplied, and data in protocols posted on-line, and official data.
"The electoral commissions of the aforementioned regions have confirmed that the No. 2 protocols used as a basis for compiling voting results are authentic... Your claim that voting results contained in No. 2 protocols were inconsistent with actual results was a consequence of the figures recorded on copies of those protocols..."
Well, look at that!
When members of a district electoral commission count ballot papers, observers from political parties and public organizations are present. When the count is complete, a protocol of results is compiled, also in the presence of observers. It is authenticated by the signatures of the district electoral commission members, including the chairperson, and stamped with the commission's stamp. Copies of this document are given to the observers, while the original protocol is delivered to the central electoral authorities, where the figures are entered into the GAS-Vybory system.
From the official response quoted above, it follows that correct figures were supplied up the electoral chain of command, but the copies - fully authenticated - "contain inauthentic data."
Does that mean there were some biased observers fudging the figures, forging the signatures of district electoral commission members, and stamping the copies with fake stamps?

From the CEC's official response to CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov: "The discrepancy between the official data and the data contained in copies of protocols is also attributed to the
relevant electoral commissions compiling second versions of protocols, not in the presence of observers who had earlier received copies of the initial versions of protocols..."
Translated from the CEC's bureaucratic jargon, this means that a district electoral commission at a polling station would count the ballot papers at 8 p.m., compile a protocol, hand out copies to observers, wait until the observers leave, and then compile another version of the protocol - which would be submitted to the central electoral authorities.
The CEC's response does not explain where the data used for the second protocols came from.
I'm not a lawyer, but this sounds to me like an admission that voting results were falsified at polling stations. An official admission!
Alexander Veshnyakov has essentially caught the election fraudsters red-handed, as he tells Gennadi Zyuganov. This would be the perfect moment for the CEC chairman, who is responsible for keeping elections clean, to acknowledge that the Duma elections were invalid and call for those responsible to be punished. However...

From the CEC's official response to CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov: "Your submission contains claims that actions were allegedly taken to falsify voting results. The CEC considers these claims to be short of evidence and derogatory towards the activities of electoral commissions... The CEC investigation has not found a single established case of federal laws being broken in a way that might cast doubt on the voting results... Therefore, the CEC sees no grounds for carrying out the recount you propose..."
Presumably, then, compiling second versions of protocols to replace unsatisfactory first versions, using figures from undisclosed sources, with no observers present - all this is entirely normal under federal law and can't possibly constitute evidence of falsification. And as for those responsible...

From the CEC's official response to CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov: "One reason for inconsistencies and discrepancies in copies of protocols is that they were improperly filled out by observers themselves... they could nnot be located, or electoral commissions did not take the proper measures to do so... Based on the investigation results, 21 chairpersons of district electoral commissions are facing disciplinary action for flaws and omissions in their work... The CEC has recommended that when district electoral commissions for the presidential election are being formed, the people who chaired those electoral commissions where rules and procedures for making copies of protocols and distributing them to observers were violated should not be selected as commission members."
To sum this up: the CEC has uncovered a falsification mechanism used during the parliamentary elections - rewriting the vote-counting results. The CEC has not acknowledged this to be a serious violation of the law. The blame is placed on the observers themselves (for being absent when the protocols were rewritten) and a few individual members of lower-level electoral commissions. The elections are confirmed as valid; those responsible for falsification have received a slap on the wrist.

Editorial comment:

After looking at our copy of the CEC's official response to CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov, we are left with more questions than answers.
Federal law says that any state officials or local government officials who obstruct elections or falsify voting results face penalties of up to six years imprisonment, along with a three-year
ban on holding certain offices; for electoral commission members, the penalty is a fine equivalent to 100-500 times the minimum monthly wage.
So why is the CEC being so lenient towards the chairpersons of district electoral commissions?
Could it possibly mean that these people acted in coordination with more senior electoral authorities - or have even taken the blame for their superiors in the course of the investigation?
The CEC's official response states that "deviations from official data mainly concern points 1-17 in No. 2 protocols" (voter turnout, the number of absentee ballots, the number of early votes, etc.) and "they have no direct influence on establishing the true expression of the voters' will."
But at the upcoming presidential election,s voter turnout will be the fundamental issue - not the number of votes cast for any particular presidential candidate.
We approached some interested parties and requested comments on the situation.
Vadim Solovyov, CEC member representing the CPRF, head of the CPRF Central Committee legal service: "The law says that whenever verification figures reveal any discrepancies, the relevant regional electoral commission should meet to consider the issue, decide on a recount, and summon all the proper witnesses for the recount: observers, representatives of parties and political organizations. It should label the protocol for the recount as a 'second protocol' and distribute copies to observers. Only then should the second protocol's data be entered into the GAS-Vybory system and so on. But in these cases, not even the ordinary members of the district electoral commissions were involved the protocols were rewritten by the chairpersons and secretaries of the electoral commissions. We will send Veshnyakov's response to the Prosecutor General's Office. Under the law, the CEC itself ought to approach the Prosecutor General's Office to request prosecutions - but it is failing to do so, and essentially is covering up for people who have committed crimes."
Sergei Mitrokhin, Yabloko party: "We have valid grounds for taking legal action, and lawsuits will be filed in regional courts in the near future."
* * *
It would be unfair not to give the CEC itself an opportunity to comment on the situation. We approached the CEC legal directorate.
Maya Grishina, deputy head of the CEC legal directorate: "A second protocol is compiled if the first version of a protocol contains errors - for example, these may be discovered when checking verification figures. In this situation, the district electoral commission itself decides to correct the protocol, informing all interested parties, such as observers. If a superior electoral commission subsequently receives a complaint and considers it well-founded, it may issue an instruction for a recount. Observers have the right to be present at all stages of the process. However, sometimes the observers aren't up to it - they might get tired and go home. And no one has the right to detain them. Any observer who leaves before the regional electoral commission confirms that a protocol has been accepted will not receive a second copy, even though they are entitled to one. And that would be the observer's own fault."



See also:

State Duma elections 2003

Novaya Gazeta, March 11, 2004

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