Russian Observers Question Fairness Of US Elections
By Ria Novosti
By Maria Young
Election monitors from Russia claimed on Thursday that a report on the just concluded 2012 US elections by an international consortium, failed to mention a number of key problems that they said exist in the American voting process.
“There is a double standard,” said Sergey Chumarev, a Senior Counselor with the Russian Embassy in Washington and part of an independent Embassy group that worked to monitor Tuesday’s presidential election, but said it had trouble gaining admission to polling stations in the state of Florida and elsewhere.
“For the US you have a lower standard of international observation while observations in many other states, as we say, east of Vienna, essentially Eastern Europe and Russia, there is a strong demand from the US to observe everything everywhere, at every stage of electoral proceedings,” he said. “So for us it’s a clear cut double standard.”
Not so, says João Soares, leader of the international election observation mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and a former member of the European Parliament.
“The standards we use in the US or that we use in the UK are the same standards we use in Kazakhstan or that we use elsewhere east of Vienna, the standards are the same, the principles are the same,” he said.
“We felt the elections were free and fair,” he added. “The main point is that people express their wish, their political wish, with absolute freedom. People can even show the way they are going to vote which doesn’t happen in the majority of European countries where people are afraid to say for who they voted. And that’s important because it means there’s freedom, nobody’s afraid.”
Report Spells Out Problems in US Election
The OSCE report released Thursday does mention long lines and overcrowding at polling stations, and highlighted ongoing concerns about possible voter suppression and campaign finance laws that allowed for nearly $6 billion in spending on the US presidential campaign.
“When you have a competitive election process like we do and you have a free press, everything that’s done is looked at very, very closely… so every problem that you hear about will be analyzed from the point of view of whether it complied with our laws,” said US Sen. Ben Cardin, co-chair of the US-Helsinki Commission, which oversees OSCE policy in the US and elsewhere, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
International monitors are crucial to insure the integrity of the system, but also to establish credibility internationally, said Cardin. “Nobody does it perfectly and the international observers help us improve our system.”
But overall, it is a glowing report that said the elections were ”yet another demonstration of the country’s commitment to democracy,” a far cry from the critical report OSCE released after the March, 2012 election of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which questioned the integrity and fairness of the Russian election process.
Russians Say Report Shows Double Standard
The US election underscored significant problems with the electoral system that are not highlighted in the report, said Chumarev, who added the OSCE observers tend to go to predetermined polling sites where election workers are organized, prepared, and have been briefed on what to expect.
Separate Russian Embassy monitors were not allowed into polling stations to observe in a number of states, including Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Louisiana, said Chumarev.
The US State Department said Thursday there were no reports of international monitors violating local restrictions or being arrested on Election Day.
“There were a number of states… that had this no observation closer than 100 feet, and our understanding is that in those states where they were asked to respect that, they did respect it,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Because they weren’t allowed to observe problems in Florida, Chumarev said his team talked to representatives from the two main US political parties, who reported “dozens of irregularities and violations… and huge queues (lines),” as well as confusion over the hours for early voting and voting on Election Day.
“So for us it’s a clear-cut double standard. If there are not problems, why not allow us in?” he asked.
Speaking through an interpreter, Olga Alimova, a representative of the Communist Party and an OSCE monitor from Saratov, Russia told RIA Novosti she found the process complied with election laws in the US, but had some concerns about campaign finance regulations and the fact that third-party candidates attract very little attention.
There is room for improvement, Soares said. But he maintained the OSCE does not have a double standard, and cautioned both sides against approaching modern US-Russian relations with an attitude that belongs in the past.
“I personally am very attached to the idea of not looking at this situation with the old eyes of the Cold War times,” he said.
“I think probably for many people in the US and in the Russian Federation, it’s very comfortable because this shame, old shame, was simple: ‘We are the good, this side, the other side, they are the bad side,’ but the reality of the world is not that,” he said. “You cannot look to a new reality with old eyes.”