Electoral fraud in Russia exists, and is quite prevalent, tilting Putin’s and United Russia’s results upwards of where “they should up” by up to 10% points since the mid-2000s.
That said, Russian electoral fraud has generally not been banana republic tier for a couple of reasons:
- Electoral fraud usually happens in the counting stages, instead of the naked ballot stuffing that is often associated with fraud in the popular imagination (indeed, the latter is rather hard to do these, with cameras in the vast majority of voting stations). This fraud can generally only be detected through complicated statistical methods involving Gaussian curves and “nice fractions” that are rather beyond the comprehension of average laypersons.
- Electoral fraud generally happens at the local level, as opposed to being ordered from “on high”, as suggested by the fact that there are good correlations between electoral fraud and the level of corruption within the Russian regions). Although the incentives in play – lack of punishment for electoral fraud, rewards for regional bigwigs where United Russia and Putin get good results – strongly favor it. Nonetheless, this still distinguishes Russia from Belorussia and Central Asia, where elections the results really are written out in advance.
But these two mitigating patterns were not in display during the gubernatorial elections in Vladivostok.
At one point, the KPRF candidate Andrey Ishchenko was leading the Putin-endorsed United Russia candidate Andrey Tarasenko by 245,095 (49.9%) votes to 233,801 (47.6%), with victory assured. But when turnout reached 99.03, Tarasenko had surged to 247,396 (49.0) to the hapless Ishchenko’s 245,090 (48.6). Then one more voting station reported its results, and Tarasenko jumped up to 253,082 votes to Ishchenko’s 245,438 – even though no known electoral station in Russia has more than one thousand registered voters.
1. Although the magnitude of this fraud is not all that high in absolute terms, it did clearly subvert the will of the Primorye region, which voted against the UR candidate.
2. You need no fancy statistics, just arithmetic, to understand that this fraud was fraud. This is as blatant as the 146% turnout in Rostov oblast in the 2011 elections – except the latter genuinely was a technical mistake on the part of a single TV news channel.
3. The suddenness and last minute nature of the intervention suggests that it came from on high.
I have no idea why they did it. Irkutsk oblast has been ruled by non-United Russia governors for three terms, and nothing threatening has come out of it. Now, even assuming that protests remain lowkey – not something that can be guaranteed, since Primorye is a traditionally feisty region and gave Putin his third worst official results in the 2018 Presidential elections – United Russia will have a much harder time eking out a halfway respectable performance in that region come the 2021 Duma elections.
Well, come to think of it, I do have an idea as to why this happened, though it’s a banal and depressing one – that the worst kakistocratic impulses of the Putin regime are coming out into the open with increasing regularity.
Together with Head of the National Guard Viktor Zolotov’s bizarre rant on YouTube where he challenges Navalny to a duel in response to Navalny’s corruption allegations, and the clusterfuck of an interview with the alleged Skripal assassins, having all happened in just the past week, there is no escaping from this impression.