In Election Day Olympics, US gets an F from the Russian judge

In what may be tit-for-tat recriminations for US expressions of concern regarding Russian democracy, the Russian elections chief ranks the US election system 'the worst in the world.'

Alan Diaz/AP
A voter reads her ballot as she prepares to cast her vote during the last day of early voting in Miami on Nov. 3.

Americans have known since at least 2000 that their national election system isn’t perfect. But still – “worst in the world?”

As Americans prepare to go to the polls Tuesday, they can line up knowing that the chief of Russia’s elections commission thinks exactly that. America has no business critiquing other countries’ electoral systems, says Vladimir Churov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, because to compare systems internationally is to rank America’s “the worst in the world.”

Mr. Churov argues in a recent issue of Rossiyskaya Gazeta that America’s trouble-prone voting machines, the risk of tampering in those machines, the lack of transparency in vote tabulation, and then the Electoral College system, combine to give the United States an election system that leaves much to be desired.

All the points Churov makes are already the object of plenty of criticism within the US, of course. But might it also be that the Russian elections chief is practicing a bit of tit-for-tat criticism in the midst of a souring in US-Russia relations?

It was less than a year ago that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke publicly of her “serious concern” about allegations of fraud in Russia’s legislative elections last December. Then in March, other American and international voices sounded an alarm over various problems reported by Russian democracy advocates in elections that returned Vladimir Putin to the presidency.

And with Mr. Putin’s return has come a resurgence of anti-American sentiment in Russia, fueled by a growing conviction that the US continues to underestimate Russia’s weight in international affairs while overestimating its own.

Since Putin’s return to power, Russia has escorted the US Agency for International Development to the door, and announced an end to the long-running joint US-Russia program to control loose nukes.

One result in this US election season is a steady diet on Russian government television of critical reports on topics ranging from a lack of exposure for third-party presidential candidates to sparse voting stations for the American Indian population.

Indeed it may not have been a coincidence that election-chief Churov’s blast at the US elections ran in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official newspaper of record of the Russian government.

The Russian government seemed to take particular delight in highlighting the “hypocrisy” of the US after a number of states, including Texas and Iowa, rejected the presence this year of international election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE has observed US elections for decades, and the US supports its election observer teams in other countries, including Russia.

With just a whiff of sardonicism, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week, “It is strange why the US authorities, who often accuse other countries of being not democratic enough, prefer not to notice such violation of democracy in their own country.”

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