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JURIST's Russia Correspondent is Robert Teets, Jr., Visiting Professor, Academic Legal University, Institute of State & Law, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.
[Moscow; Special to JURIST] It was Mark Twain, of course, who pithily opined that one would be better-off not to observe either the manufacture of sausage or the enactment of legislation. Respectful of Samuel Clemens deserved status as an American sage, I have always found the observation of elections, which are also law-making, to be a fundamentally inspiring and rejuvenating chance to see democratic ideals in action.

For the Presidential election of March 26, 2000, my Russian Central Election Commission observer certification was under the auspices of the Federation for Peace and Conciliation, although I also had the benefit of questionnaire materials from the OSCE. On election day, I visited seven different polling places in the immediate vicinity of my Moscow apartment, in a neighborhood known as Khamovniki, which is in the very heart of this beautiful capital city along the north shore of the Moscow river just before it divides and sweeps on past the Kremlin.

I began both my Sunday and Monday mornings at Precinct no. 29. Along with me from the very start of the morning, still on duty which I returned to precinct number 29 before the polls closed at 8:00 p.m., and then long into the night with me were two domestic observers from the Communist Party. The very cordial president of the precinct election commission was a Yuri Konstantinovich. This polling place was in the Central House of Scholars on Prechistenka Ulitsya. Once the mansion of a rich mercantile family in the timber trade, it was appropriated early in Soviet days, but under the benevolence of Maxim Gorki soon made over, during the harsh times of the Russian Civil War, into a refuge for Russia痴 intellectual elite - scientists; writers; philosophers; musicians; doctors; artists. The ill-fated poetic genius Osip Mandelstam is recorded as having been among its early beneficiaries; even today, it is a low-cost place for members of the Academy of Sciences to get a very pleasant lunch in rather elegant surroundings every day of the week except Sunday. Several of the rooms in the old wing have been preserved and their interiors are representative of many marvelous late 18th and early 19th century suites of the Tsar and his St. Petersburg and Moscow aristocratic retinue.

There are thus multiple ironies in this building being the place where voting was officially conducted on a sunny and cool spring day in late March. With regards to Mandelstam痴 later tragic disappearance and death along with millions of others in the Soviet gulag, one might even feel that there was poetic justice being served by the act of voting being conducted here, as well as in public facilities all across Russia痴 11 time zones.

After the voting was completed, the voter registration lists were closed, the mobile ballot boxes were opened and verified and the stationary ballot boxes were opened and sorted by candidate. Finally, the votes were counted, by hand. The Russian CEC rules are quite elaborate in their effort to prevent error as well as fraud. Thus, for example, the officials doing the actual counting of the paper ballots are prohibited to have either a pen or pencil, for fear (I guess) that they might deface or otherwise mark a ballot.

Likewise the status and position of observers, domestic as well as international, is to do just that - observe - and to neither attempt to correct nor direct vote casting or counting. Notwithstanding this, Yuri Konstantinovich was an exemplar of courtesy in requesting our careful inspection of each the 9 ballots which were invalidated (owing to their being blank or confusingly marked) as well as of the insides of both the mobile and stationary ballot boxes. This latter procedure was done prior to 8:00 a.m., after which these boxes were sealed, plus again after 8:00 p.m., when the seals were broken and the ballots removed.

At seemingly all Russian polling stations (of course, I was able to visit but a tiny fraction of the 94,000 total!) there are voting booths with partial curtains, i.e. which show one痴 legs and feet in order to facilitate seeing that a given booth is occupied without revealing what a voter is marking or writing. At both the December and March elections, I observed most of these booths often standing empty as Russian sat more happily at school room desks, wrote with their ballot papers pressed up against the wall as a vertical writing pad, or with one hand held the collar of a child, while with the other scribbling on a "bulletin" (which is what ballots are called in Russian) wedged on top of a purse in turn pressed against a leg. In short, privacy having long been a very limited quantity in this society, there was extremely little concern with the "necessity" for a curtained booth. Even when booths were utilized, there were not infrequently multiple pairs of legs to be seen inside of them as when, for example, Grandmother wanted help to read all the fine print (this was much more common in December with 4 different bulletins in Moscow than in March where at the vast majority of polling stations, the bulletin was but one single sheet of paper).

The evening, or I should say night, ended with a formal protocol which I then followed to the Territorial Election Commission, where the protocol was verified and entered into the national computer database. Precinct no. 29痴 final results, as recorded on that protocol, were:

1. Voters List at the close of voting2277
2. Blank Ballots Received2090
3. Ballots Issued for early voting0000
4. Ballots Cancelled at the close of voting0499
5. Ballots Issued1525
6. Ballots Issued for casting off-premises0066
7. Ballots Cast in mobile boxes0066
8. Ballots in on-site receptacles1522
9. Valid Ballots1580
10. Invalid Ballots0008
11. Other Invalid Ballots0000
12. Blank and therefore Invalid Ballots0001
12a. Invalid Ballots in early voting0000
13. Absentee Certificates Received by PEC0100
14. Absentee Certificates Issued0036
14a. Absentee Certificates Issued by TEC0002
15. Absent Ballots Cast0052
16. Unused Absentee Certificates0064
17. Cancelled Absentee Certificates0002
18. Govorukhin0041
19. Djabrailov0001
20. Zhirinovski0007
21. Zyuganov0346
22. Pamfilova0017
23. Podberezkin0010
24. Putin0546
25. Savostyanovwithdrew
26. Skuratov0030
27. Titov0019
28. Tuleev0024
29. Yavlinski0445
30. Votes cast against all candidates0094

Yavlinski痴 campaign headquarters are in my neighborhood and that might have something to do with him coming in second with 101 votes less than Putin, and 99 votes more than Zyuganov. You should also note that fourth position was secured by those voting against all candidates with 94 votes or 5.9% of the 1589 votes which were cast. For the mathematically minded, this is lines 18 through 30 added together, plus the 9 invalid ballots from lines 10 and 12; cf. also line 9.

Overall, I have now twice personally found the Russian Federation痴 election system to be sophisticated and significantly transparent in all phases of its process. Yes, of course, I am not forgetting that I was in the "stolitsa", or capital, but the reports from hundreds of other international observers across the map happily support my experience as typical as opposed to unusual. Most of us being lawyers, of course I should add the caveat that the OSCE and its sister groups will need a reasonable amount of additional time to digest their data forms and reports from March 26th and publish their final report before one can or should accept my snapshot as representative.

In the course on Comparative Legal Reasoning that I teach at Moscow痴 Institute of State and Law, I have my students prepare reports pairing Russian and non-Russian cases or other legal materials. The resources available via the Internet have been invaluable to me in doing this, as this was not a course which I had either previously taught or was able to prepare while back in the States late last summer. Most recently, I assigned a report on the Russian and American election processes, especially as regards campaign finance.

Given that the US Supreme Court痴 benchmark decision in Buckley v. Valeo is now older than some of my students - and extremely long as well as tortuous in its reasoning - I gave one of my student teams the decision in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government from January 24th of this year. The incremental step taken in that case away from Buckley痴 quintessential equation of money with free speech, was brought to my attention by Tony Lewis column in the New York Times (on-line edition, 29 January 2000). His last paragraph was what moved me to go and get the Nixon decision as well as to use it with my students:

The equation of campaign spending with speech has always been too simple. When the Buckley case was decided, the revered constitutional law teacher Paul A. Freund said: "They say that money talks. I thought that was the problem, not the solution."

The Russian Government financed most if not all of the Presidential campaign spending by the 12 candidates who were certified by the Central Election Commission. None spent all of the money which was technically allocated to them, and Putin refused all of his share. This might at first sound similar to George Bush, Jr.痴 refusal to take his share of the US federal presidential election campaign funds. A quite significant distinction lies, however, in Governor Bush痴 private fund-raising and spending, which according to several reports, was in excess of $70 million up to "Super Tuesday" in March.

Of course, we shall still have to await final accounting, but Vladimir Putin痴 total spending seems sure to be confirmed as only a small fraction of this amount. Witness for example the 13 April report of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report from a Russian language daily newspaper:

The 19 December elections to the State Duma cost Russian taxpayers $33 million--one quarter of the amount estimated by the former head of the Central Election Commission, Aleksandr Ivanchenko, Segodnya reported on 12 April. Expressed in terms of the cost of each vote (total cost divided by the number of voters), 30 cents, the Russian election was 16 times cheaper than an election in the U.S., the newspaper reported.

There is no question but that Russia痴 political parties, and therefore its presidential candidates and its electoral machinery, are not yet well-, much less fully-, developed. But my observation of no more than rather benign infractions at two different Russian elections in 17 different precincts suggests to me that elections, election processes, and election laws are not as badly in need of reform in Russia as they are in the United States.

Robert Teets, Jr.
JURIST Russia Correspondent

Visiting Professor
Academic Legal University
Institute of State & Law
Russian Academy of Sciences
Moscow, RUSSIA

May 25, 2000


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