Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Russian Regions Can’t Afford Ballot Boxes or Even Ballots

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – At the end of Soviet times, a bitter joke circulated in Moscow. A Russian visited one store and there was no toilet paper, he visited a second and there was no meat, and then he complained on the street that the Soviet state had failed him and his fellows because it could produce neither toilet paper nor meat.

            A militiaman approached him and said that he must not talk like that. “In the old days,” the policeman said, “we could have had you shot for such remarks.”  The Russian walked away and once he got home he told his wife: “Mariya: it is worse than we thought. Not only don’t they have any toilet paper or meat. They’ve run out of bullets.”

            One recalls that now not only because tomorrow is the anniversary of the failed putsch that led to the end of communist power and the disintegration of the USSR but also because “Novyye izvestiya” reports that Russia’s regions are so hard-pressed they can’t afford ballot boxes or even ballots (newizv.ru/politics/2015-08-18/225624-za-neimeniem-gerbovoj.html).

            The Moscow paper’s Sergey Yezhov reports that “election commissions have encountered deficits serious enough to threaten the organization of the vote” in September. They explain this by “the difficulties of the economic situation and the fall in the ruble’s exchange rate.”

            As a result, he continues, the regional election commissions “have begun to economize on many things. The only thing that remains untouchable up to now is their pay.” Yezhov gives some examples:

            In Kemerovo, officials have stopped using electronic voting, allowing them to achieve a savings of 7.7 percent.  In Ryazan, the situation is worse: officials don’t have enough ballots because of the rising price of paper. They are now planning to print not 100 percent of the ballot papers they expect to need but only 80 percent.

            Meanwhile, in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, officials have gone further: they’ve eliminated the electoral commission altogether, something that may not be so bad as they say they will recreate it when the elections there, scheduled for 2019, are closer. And in Arkhangelsk and several other regions, citing economic problems, officials have done away with video monitors.

            But however much they cut back, Moscow officials say, the electoral commissions in the regions have not reduced their spending on the salaries of their members; and in some cases, the amounts for that budget item have even gone up.

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