A quadrennial Russian tradition: Mocking the U.S. electoral college

November 6, 2012

(Natalia Kolesnikova -- AFP/Getty Images)

Russians absolutely adore the U.S. Electoral College, so much so that you could be forgiven for thinking the Founding Fathers set it up just for them, providing a delicious opening to admonish the United States on the conduct of its elections.

The other day, a Russian guide taking two Middle Eastern tourists through a Kremlin museum was overheard offering an earnest observation: “You know, “ he said, “our Russian elections are far more democratic than American elections.”

The two visitors looked at him questioningly for a moment, and then he drove his point home with relish. “People don’t elect the American president,” he said. “The Electoral College elects him.”

Although plenty of Russians criticize their own elections – in the last year tens of thousands have gone out on the streets to protest rigged voting – the country’s leaders do not like to hear about it from the United States and Europe. They see it as lecturing, and it annoys them more than anything, perhaps even more than their conviction that the United States intends to aim missiles at them in the name of defense.

Last week, Vladimir Churov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, offered his personal study of U.S. elections. Not only was the American president elected by “the so-called Electoral College,” he reported, the United States was so busy taking up the role of worldwide “master of destinies,” it was ignoring guaranteeing U.S. citizens their rights.

Getting down to the real dirt, he reported that voting rules are left to the states, which can distort them any way they like because they operate without the benefit of an all-powerful central commission, such as Russia's. Fraud is extensive, with 2.75 million Americans registered to vote in two or more states at one time and 1.8 million registered voters actually dead, he said. (The figures come from a Pew study citing messiness, not fraud.)

This horrifying view of the American electoral process is hardly new. In 2000, Alexander Veshnyakov, Churov’s predecessor, visited the United States to watch Americans elect their president. He was introduced to some new vocabulary, such as hanging chads. He found his visit to Chicago particularly illuminating, unearthing lurid tales of the dead voting, the living bribed and ballot boxes stuffed.

“When I read a 1982 grand jury report on Chicago’s elections,” he said upon his return to Moscow, “I learned all I needed to know about typical violations.”

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Max Fisher · November 6, 2012