Why Russians think U.S. elections are unfair

November 8, 2012

Complaining about U.S. elections is a quadrennial tradition among Russians, many of whom see the Electoral College as undemocratic and think voter fraud here is widespread, as the Washington Post's Kathy Lally reported Wednesday.

Natalia Kolesnikova — AFP/Getty Images
Natalia Kolesnikova — AFP/Getty Images

Now, a Russian lawmaker and recent U.S. election monitor has come out to publicly criticize Tuesday's vote.

Ilya Kostunov, a deputy for the governing United Russia party and a recent election observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, told The Moscow Times that "large-scale voter disenfranchisement and lax identification procedures" makes the American electoral system more error-prone than the Russian one.

As examples of superior fraud-protection, he pointed to Russia's strict voter identification laws and the web cameras that monitor all of the country's more than 90,000 ballot stations.

"In Russia there are institutions that protect from voting fraud, in the U.S. there are no such institutions," Kostunov said.

This is, of course, slightly ironic because Democrats argued all election season that stringent voter identification procedures -- like voter ID laws -- were themselves a form of voter disenfranchisement.

The OSCE sent 44 long-term observers and 100 parliamentarians to monitor the U.S. vote, and it reported concern over voter registration accuracy.

Its report found, "an estimated 50 million eligible citizens were not registered to vote, bringing into question the effectiveness of existing measures to ensure that all persons entitled to vote are able to exercise that right."

However, the OSCE also sent observer missions to Russia, and has questioned the fairness of both the presidential vote and the December Duma elections there.

In its report about Russia's March 4 presidential election, the OSCE wrote:

"There was, however, a general lack of confidence among many interlocutors in the independence of election officials at all levels, mostly due to their perceived affiliation with local administration and the governing party....The process deteriorated during the count which was assessed negatively in nearly one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities."

Kostunov's reaction to the OSCE's take on his own country's electoral practices?

"Overly politicized and emotionally charged," he said.

Many everyday Russians see the flaws in their own electoral process, as shown by massive street protests last year against perceived vote rigging.

On Wednesday the top joke on a Russian humor site read:

"Poor Americans! It's so hard for them to choose between Romney and Obama. Lucky Russians! They only had to choose between Putin and Putin."

And even if they took issue with the electoral process, many high-profile Russians also celebrated the result:

“Hurrah!” tweeted MTV Russia host Artem Korolev. “Obama is the new U.S. president, and Romney, a man still living in the 1950s, is good and gone.”

“I am glad that the man who considers Russia the number one enemy will not be president. That's ridiculous, some kind of paranoia," said Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. "Obama is a known, predictable partner.”

 

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Max Fisher · November 8, 2012