Join us as we watch our friendly neighborhood campaign volunteer educate his classmates about vote fraud – in the context of the Crimean Referendum
It was primary election day back home in Chicago, and Pavel was glad he had switched his registration to his college address. The guys back at the 51st Ward Party Headquarters sure wouldn’t be happy with the ballots he was casting these days, and the excuse that “I’m just doing a little mischief in the other party” probably sounds a bit lame the second or third time it’s tried.
Pavel walked into his Comparative Political Science 202 class – he was always on time, but some of the other kids made it a point to get there early – and there was already quite a rowdy battle brewing.
Professor Hume-Strauss was at the board, writing a list of bullet points – Ukraine, Russia, Crimea, Sevastopol, Europe, USA, China – and she smiled broadly as the bell rang and the last stragglers took their seats.
“We’ll take a break from the syllabus today, folks,” she began. “The world’s all up in arms (some of it literally!) over what’s happening in Crimea, so let’s talk about that today. Some of us have already started…”
Pavel Syerov Jr. looked around the room. To the best of his knowledge, he was the only ethnic Russian in the class – though at three generations since immigration, that hardly counts as more experience than anybody else in the room. And he didn’t really know anything much about the regions in dispute, so he didn’t expect to have much to say. This was going to be a class for sitting back and listening.
The professor started with a short summary of the situation at hand. Crimea had been a semi-autonomous province – but a full-fledged part of Ukraine – for over twenty years. Even if folks thought themselves “ethnically aligned with Russia,” they were still part of Ukraine and had been for nearly a generation. She used the competing examples of far northwest Italy, which may feel like France, but has never tried to rejoin France, and far northeast Italy, which feels a heck of a lot like Austria, and was in fact grabbed from Austria a century ago.
What should the rest of the world do when an area is so full of one ethnic group – identified more with a neighboring country than their own – that it wants to break free and join its neighbor? What should be done?
One student didn’t even raise her hand; she just spoke up. “Let the UN sort it out!” volunteered Susan Furthington-Smythe of Wilkes-Barre. “ Isn’t that the whole reason we HAVE a UN?”
The professor smiled. She had a feeling that would be the first proposal. She’d been teaching comp poli sci for a LONG time... “Certainly, we can start at the UN. But can anyone tell us the reason that approach didn’t work out?”
Max Hernandez, an exchange student from Ecuador, had the answer in a snap. As she recognized him, he answered “They DID take it up with the UN. First thing. The UN security council issued their own resolution denouncing it. But naturally Russia vetoed the measure. They’re on the security council, and can veto anything the security council does.”
Professor Hume-Strauss nodded, and asked the class “Do we have a general lesson we can take from this?”
Texan Tom Comstock usually just sat in the back and looked annoyed, but this time he had an answer. “The UN might – and I emphasize MIGHT – be able to discipline its less important members, but it’s pretty darned impotent when it comes to disciplining anybody on the security council who has a veto. If you have aggressive or acquisitive inclinations, see if you can get a spot on the security council first… or sidle up to somebody who has one, and get his commitment to use his veto to protect you.” The Texan sat back and chuckled. “And Voila! The 'great peacemaking body' is rendered toothless.”
“Right, Tom,” said the professor, shaking her head sadly. “Ever since the beginning of the UN, the veto power held by the permanent members of the security committee has always been its biggest weak spot.”
“Well, AFTER the corruption, anti-semitism, and financial waste, maybe…” muttered someone under his breath… but the prof didn’t turn quickly enough to see who and follow up.
“Then let’s talk about the referenda held over the weekend.” She asked “What do we know about them?”
Polly Anna Knowles, from California, raised her hand. “Well, they were quite conclusive. 97 or 98 percent of the Crimeans were in favor of leaving Ukraine and joining Russia. So no matter what, at least we now know what the people of Crimea really want. No question there!” She smiled, broadly, as if unanimity of opinion was the greatest thing in the world.
Now that they were talking about an election, Pavel couldn’t keep quiet anymore. He signaled the prof, and got her okay to begin.
“Of course it’s possible that the vast majority of Crimeans want to put their necks back under the Russian boot. Maybe they’ve missed it. Maybe they thought it was warm and comfy. But we DON’T know that it was unanimous. We don’t know that at all.”
Polly Anna took this as a personal insult. “Well, what do YOU call 98%, mister? Nothing in America gets 98%! Nothing! 98% is unanimous enough for me!”
Pavel asked the teacher if he could use the chalkboard, and she welcomed it. This was the kind of class she loved to teach!
Pavel started writing a different list of bullet points on the blackboard, and discussed each topic as he wrote it down:
- What were they asked?
“A normal referendum lets you choose between two opposite choices. Should we cap a tax, or not? Should we raise a bond issue, or not? Should pot be legal, or not? But this referendum only offered whether to become independent or join Russia. OBVIOUSLY most of them figure they couldn’t survive as an independent country of two or three million people without a military, so they have to be part of either Russia or Ukraine. And the status quo – stay as part of Ukraine – wasn’t on the ballot! What the heck can you learn about the people’s feelings about Ukraine from that?”
Pavel continued. “Lots of local park and school districts get ballots passed by writing referenda in a confusing way, on purpose. Sometimes they get people to vote for a tax increase or TIF district by wording it so that they think they’re voting against it, but the ‘no’ answer is the tax or TIF! Deceptive wording, or intentionally incomplete options, are classic ways for sneaky pols to skew or misdirect the eventual results of a referendum.”
- Who voted?
“It was supposed to be only registered Crimean residents with an official Ukrainian passport, but there were a ton of reports that people with Russian passports were allowed to vote. And there were reports of busloads of tourists voting… and of Russian soldiers voting… If they did it anything like the way they steal votes in New Orleans, where one busload of forty people goes from polling place to polling place all day, voting again and again, well, then there’s no limit to the fraud that you can get away with, especially if Russian passports were allowed.”
- How much time?
Pavel had all sorts of data for this one, but he tried to be concise. “An honest election requires a process for verifying the voters, cleaning up the registration rolls to remove people who’ve died or moved since the last election, organizing a computerized system for tallying the votes and reporting them, and for securing the ballot boxes in case of a recount. The ballots have to be professionally and securely printed so that fakes can’t be forged to stuff the ballot boxes, and these official ballots have to be distributed – securely – through a formal network of pollworkers. “
Pavel gestured toward an ROTC student in the corner, and added “One of our biggest problems in America today is that our overseas military often can’t participate in elections – even since the MOVE act – because the primary is held so late, they can’t get the final ballots issued in time to be sent out and returned to be counted. It’s a well-known way to freeze people out of the process; just schedule the election as such a rush that you guarantee certain unavoidable flaws.”
Pavel concluded the point by stating “This Crimean election was thrown together so fast, it’s physically impossible to do much of that, if any.”
- Was there coercion?
“In many cities, the ruling elite stations people at the polling places to intimidate the voters. Even if the police or machine goons aren’t specifically watching you as you fill in your ballot, people get the impression that there are eyes on them, that they have to vote the ‘right’ way or they’ll be punished. “
Pavel shook his head with frustration as he added “People in Chicago, for example, have always had the idea that if they don’t vote Democrat, they won’t get their garbage picked up, or they’ll get ticketed for parking on the street, or they’ll be frozen out of their welfare or food stamps, or they’ll lose their patronage jobs. Whether the threats are even heavily enforced isn’t the issue; the perception keeps people in the same mindset: I’d better vote the way I’m told, or I’m gonna be in trouble.”
Polly Anna interrupted at this point, shouting out “Are you saying some political boss was at every polling place in the province, coercing people?”
Pavel frowned, and next to the bullet point for ‘was there coercion?,’ he drew a rough sketch of a tank. “Crimea was two weeks into a full-fledged military occupation, Polly. They’re surrounded by Russian tanks, Russian troops, Russian airplanes, and Russian helicopters. If that’s not coercion, I don’t know what is.” Polly sat back down, a bit sheepishly.
- Who didn’t vote?
“Everybody must have heard that there was a formal call to boycott the election, by the Crimean Tatars, which makes up about ten percent of the Crimean population. And we’ve also heard that virtually everyone who opposed the referendum or favored staying with Ukraine boycotted it too – they had to, because there was nothing for them to vote for on the ballot! When a significant portion of the population stays away on purpose out of disapproval, it’s hard to consider it a legitimate vote. “
He continued “If there were a history of regular votes like this, regularly scheduled like our federal elections over here, it would be another matter. We can call an election legitimate, with just 40% participation, because it’s a standard, regularly-scheduled election cycle. But this was the first time ever for them, set up and rammed through in a week. No wonder half the country said it was illegitimate and stayed away, to do the only thing they could to deny it credibility.”
He put down the chalk and returned to his seat. “That’s all I could think of, off the top of my head. I don’t know any more about their referendum than what I heard about in the news, but whatever the people of Crimea and Ukraine may want, this particular referendum, held the way they held it, sure isn’t any legitimate way to tell.”
After a bit more discussion, the professor held a couple of votes, by show of hands in the room. The class was split on what we should do now, and on what would happen in the future, and even on what they thought was best for the people of Crimea, but on one thing there was near-unanimity: everybody agreed that this referendum was a sham, deserving of no respect at all. Even Polly Anna grudgingly voted with Pavel on this one.
As the kids filed out, one stayed behind. Bob Smith’s father had audited the class with his son that day, and wanted to compliment the professor on a great job. “My compliments also on that terrific Teaching Assistant you have. He was impressive!”
“Oh, he’s not a T.A.” said Prof. Hume-Strauss. “He’s just a student.”
“Wow; well, he sure knows the ins and outs of holding elections. I never thought about all the little opportunities for fraud there could be in a simple referendum. What class did he learn all that stuff in?”
The prof smiled, and shook her head again. “Oh, we don’t have a class on that. Pavel’s just from Chicago.”
Copyright 2014 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Customs broker and international trade compliance trainer. A former activist and onetime Milwaukee County Republican Party Chairman, he has now been a recovering politician for over sixteen years. His columns appear regularly in Illinois Review.
The Tales of Little Pavel are works of fiction, as are all the characters both at home and at his college. No similarity to any person, living or dead, is intended… but the tales of vote fraud and corrupt elections that these tales recount are sadly all too real.
Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included. Follow John F. Di Leo on Facebook or LinkedIn, or on Twitter at @johnfdileo.