14th July 2010
Are you the authoritarian leader of a CIS state?
You are? Well how nice!
But tell me friend, you must surely be getting a bit sick of all those pesky OSCE ODIHR Election Observer types coming to your country ever time you have an “election,” and then announcing to all and sundry that your efforts “failed to meet international standards in the following key respects…” or some other such interfering imperialist claptrap?
What with a wave of democratization slowly sweeping the region, and the continuing need to maintain the paper-thin facade that your vicious little police-state is “democratic” for the purpose of domestic and international legitimation (but only within the context of your own “national traditions” of course – i.e that you should be able to remain in power for as long as you like), you’ll need to make sure you’re up to date with all the latest electoral fraud techniques, so you can get the “results” you require, whilst avoiding too much international condemnation, as well as (hopefully) those tedious “colour revolutions” that rather spoiled the party for your former colleagues in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine!
Well friend, you’ve come to the right place! Democratist’s handy, bang-up-to-the-minute guide to the techniques of contemporary electoral fraud is fully ipad compatible, and designed to give you all the tips you need to ensure a smooth transition of power…back to you!
Here’s a selection of methods you might want to try….
The forgery of results protocols by District Electoral Commission staff.
This is the simplest (and most efficient – if undiscovered) approach. You just get your political representatives (or whoever you bribed sufficiently) to make up the results at the DEC (i.e. regional or oblast) level on election night, regardless of the actual results that you received from the local polling stations!
In one recent example the Secretary of a DEC in one of the western oblasts of [name of country withheld for legal reasons] was caught taking key election materials (including a highly sensitive DEC Stamp used to validate result protocols) home with him for several days, instead of keeping them in the office in a safe, as legally required - almost certainly in order to prepare forged DEC results for use on election night.
It is additionally important to note that this same person mentioned above had been responsible for the appointment of the DEC technical support staff in charge of sending the completed tabulation of the aggregated votes to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), and was also suspected of colluding with these technicians as part of a wider scam. Therefore the possibility of fraud committed using these technological means should not be discounted.
But watch out! In order for this to work you have to make sure that local observers or (even worse) the OSCE don’t have access to the computer room at the DEC from which you will be sending your falsified results on election night - the best course of action is to try to ban them from entry if you can, citing unconvincing “national security” concerns.
This one is useful is you face the problem that there are still genuine opposition parties in your country that you have not yet been able to co-opt or ban. The idea is to get as much representation for your party within the District Electoral Commissions and Polling Stations (PECs) as possible without appearing to do so too obviously (therefore giving you maximum opportunity to interfere with decision-making processes at the expense of any other candidates, and hopefully facilitate the manipulation of the results).
In order to achieve this the first thing you need to do is to create a number of “technical candidates” (candidates who have no possibility of actually winning, but because they are candidates, have the right to representation at Central Electoral Commission (CEC), DEC and PEC level). This isn’t hard to do, as there are usually plenty of people who’ll be more than happy to stand for office and look half-convincing, in return for a nice big wad of cash!
Officially, the representatives of these people will be working for the “technical candidate,” but in fact they are working for (and being paid for – often fairly openly) by you! These technical candidate representatives can be especially useful where they have been allocated key roles within their respective electoral bodies (such as chairperson or secretary).
But again, you’ll want to make sure that the OSCE LTO’s don’t find out what you’re up to, if they attend DEC and PEC meetings (which they are legally entitled to do as part of their remit) and meet with all the local politicos – it won’t look good when they put it in their reports.
The mobilization of groups of voters by local clientelistic networks.
This one is hard to detect and therefore highly recommended (under the right circumstances).
In almost all countries political and economic power are fairly closely intertwined, and this is likely to be all the more so in states where corruption is a problem and the rule of law is weak.
As you well know, if you have political power in the context of an authoritarian state, you usually also possess economic power (money that comes from politically derived control over businesses). Likewise, if you wish to maintain and develop economic power beyond a certain level, you also need political power (either directly or through the bribery of officials).
Therefore almost all senior elected officials in your country will also eventually come to control large private business networks (or be replaced by those who do): The control of administrative structures – which also comes with political power - can therefore be used in conjunction with the control of economic power to mobilize large groups of voters in advance of an election.
An example of this phenomenon can be seen in the activities of [details of this person (who we will call “Mr. X”) withheld in order to prevent Democratist being involved in any “unexplained accidents“ next time he visits “Mr. X’s” country].
“Mr. X” was head of the Presidential administration in [his country] for a number of years. He used this position to appoint personal contacts (including family members) to positions of power within his native oblast (since many of these are appointed from the capital) thereby creating his own local “administrative vertical” and additionally developing a sizable business empire into the bargain. This means that, although he no longer held any official position, within the oblast many (if not all) members of the oblast state administration, the head of the oblast council, almost all the heads of the rayon administrations, and half of the heads of the rayon councils owed their positions to directly to “Mr. X.”.
Each of these individuals was aware that they needed to “get out the vote” for the “right” candidate at election time (whoever “Mr. X” agreed to support, usually the incumbent) in order to keep their jobs. “Getting out the vote” was achieved by threatening to sack any state employee (teachers, doctors, university lecturers etc.) under an official’s control if they didn’t vote for the prefered candidate, and additionally by forcing state employees to make similar threats to anyone under their influence (e.g. the dean of the local university would be told to threaten his students with expulsion if they didn’t vote for the right candidate).
Additionally, “Mr. X” spent a certain amount of his own money on providing assistance to pensioners, school-children, low-income families, veterans etc; generosity which received plenty of airtime on local TV (which “Mr. X” usefully owned).
Subsequently, in the oblast as a whole, “Mr. X” was probably able to control 15-20% of the vote, until fairly recently.
This form of manipulation is far more difficult to prove than older, cruder forms of fraud, such as ballot box stuffing and “bussing” (which are easy to spot and which we therefore no longer recommend for your more up-to-date “great leader”) because nothing illegal actually happens at the polling station – everything is prepared in advance. This technique thus marks an advance in “political technologies” over older methods, and can be used in conjunction with techniques such as “carousel voting” – which are fairly hard to detect.
However, it is important to note that the electorate will only submit to this sort of coercion if they are fearful that the secrecy of the vote has been compromised, and that subsequently there is a good chance that someone within “the power vertical” will find out who they actually voted for, and that they really have the ability to punish the voter for their (clearly unwarranted) independence of mind. The less people fear the administrative structures, the less impact they will have (and this has unfortunately been “Mr. X’s” experience, as his influence has notably declined in his home region over the last few years).
Long-term democratization and education projects, as well as the role of NGO’s will tend to have an insidious influence in this regard – so try to restrict their activities as far as possible.
This is a related method of manipulation that is almost impossible to detect directly, and which has been practiced by (for example) the Roma communities in various countries for many years. In this case, the Roma clan leaders typically offer their services to each of the candidate’s local representatives in turn in the run-up to election day. The highest bidder gets the result he wants because the Roma are highly disciplined as voters (and there can be 2000 or more in a “clan”).
Fortunately there is very little anyone can do to stop this sort of manipulation – but it does tend only to be practiced by very specific (and fairly small) ethnic groups, and therefore can only have a fairly marginal impact on the overall result. Additionally, as the process of democratization progresses, even some Roma will begin to ignore their clan leaders and vote according to their own choice.
It’s up to you…up to a point
So there you go! And remember, in almost all the above examples your best chance to successfully rig an election is at least partly dependent on western apathy. The fewer NGOs they fund, the fewer local observers and fewer DEC/PEC staff they train, the fewer OSCE observers they send – the better your chances are of success! Let’s hope countries like the UK and US will short-sightedly spend less money on these relatively cheap and unacceptably effective activities over the coming years.