Erik Gamzejev: 'Adverse analytical findings' at elections
Greater voter turnout is the only thing that helps minimize the effect of votes secured using underhanded practices, Erik Gamzejev said in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
The expression "adverse analytical finding" is used to refer to cases where use of banned substances is suspected after the athlete is tested, while the data is not concrete enough to confirm the use of doping outright. The phrase could also be applied to election results in cases where foul play is suspected.
It often happens at local elections that little-known candidates outperform prominent local players without even pursuing much of a campaign.
Heads of local municipal departments who have not stood out as active local organizers can also be blessed with surprising vote yields, while politicians who often fail to show up for council sittings, have never made a proposal or even spoken up put in stellar results from one election to the next.
"Those are votes bought and paid for," more modest candidates who have spent years trying to promote local life, spent their time, nerves and money on campaigns say after they put in a considerably more modest showing. They know how hard it is to get paid in votes for a job well done.
Losing to competitors who miss practice but still win the race so to speak gives rise to similes with the Ben Johnsons of elections. As a result, people are either discouraged from running in elections or tempted to copy such methods.
This is not to suggest there can't be surprises at elections. Candidates have their own X-factors, with votes sticking to some and not others. However, when such illogical "surprises" start to pile up, they suggest a pattern of how to affect election results by not playing fair as opposed to simple chance.
The police have placed four Ida-Viru County local governments – Narva, Kohtla-Järve, Jõhvi and Sillamäe – under special observation these elections. This motivated a reader of [local paper] Põhjarannik to note that while the authorities used to caution shirkers and drunks, these days, it's politicians. Whether it has any effect is another matter.
At almost all past elections have journalists managed to establish concrete examples of vote buying. The police have even launched proceedings in a few cases.
A couple of people were fined for paying voters five or ten euros for their support four years ago. But punishments usually hit the final links in the chain and not the organizers of such schemes. Not to mention those who benefit from them at elections.
It seems that cases that culminate in proceedings are just the tip of the iceberg. The chances of getting caught are modest and punishments symbolic. There is more to gain than lose. The results are not overturned nor medals stripped.
Influencing voters in the so-called gray area is a separate story. An example from this fall saw the principal of a Narva school have students take a letter home to their parents to suggest the school might not do well in the future if they do not vote for them.
Convincing heads of social houses, dorms and nursing homes to run in one's election coalition is another worthwhile tactic. The residents of such establishments depend on these leaders for much of their needs and convincing them to vote hardly requires much effort. Rather, it is a matter of ticking a box.
Positions of municipal department directors are among the highest-paid jobs in local governments sporting considerable unemployment. These positions are given to people one of the tasks of whom is securing a number of votes for those who appointed them. How they go about it is up to them.
This system has allowed largely the same group of people to stay in power in Narva and Kohtla-Järve for a few decades. Three-quarters of people on the Center Party's long list of candidates in both cities depend on the city budget. For many, elections constitute a battle for their job.
The police could keep a closer eye on elections and do more analytical work, so that the likely sharp practitioners would feel that the risk of getting caught has increased. One option would be to emulate the Tax Board and send people a letter suggesting their conduct has put them on the radar.
A police patrol cannot ensure honest elections neither near polling stations nor online. As long as there will be voters willing to sell their vote for five or ten euros, there will be people trying to take advantage. In local governments where results are usually close, unfair or manipulated votes could decide who gets to rule for the next four years.
Voters who wish to man councils with people who will take care of local affairs and deserve the position fair and square can do one thing – vote!
The greater the voter turnout, the weaker the effect of votes collected using sharp practices. However, should turnout be just 40 percent in Kohtla-Järve and 44 percent in Narva, as was the case four years ago, unfair votes will have a considerable effect on the result.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski