- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

Russia's chief election monitor said yesterday he is amused and mystified by the United States' troubles in conducting a democratic election.
"This definitely enriches my understanding on how irregularities can occur," Alexander A. Veshnyakov, chairman of the Russian Federation's Central Election Commission, said in an interview yesterday.
Mr. Veshnyakov was in Washington heading a delegation of Russian officials invited to observe the U.S. political process. Like many foreign observers, he expressed surprise that the globe's most powerful and technologically sophisticated democracy is having such trouble counting.
"I was under the impression that U.S. elections were much more perfect than this and that such things cannot happen here," said Mr. Veshnyakov.
Back in Moscow, members of Mr. Veshnyakov's agency were joking that the Russian had been sent to the United States to instruct American officials on how to conduct an honest election.
Around the world, nations used to being targets of lectures for their own election irregularities were taking barely disguised glee in the confusing endgame between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore in the fight for Florida's electoral votes and the keys to the White House.
The Swiss French-language newspaper 24 Heures proclaimed in a banner headline yesterday: "Washington, we have a problem."
"Forrest Chumps," read the front-page headline in Britain's tabloid Mirror, above a picture of the two candidates in Gumplike poses. "This election's like a box of chocolates," ran the kicker. "You never know what you're going to get."
Italians, whose own politics have been compared to an "opera buffa" after 58 post-war governments, had a field day. The Rome daily, La Repubblica, ran the mocking headline: "A day worthy of a banana republic."
A French political satire television program featured puppet likenesses of Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush counting out votes one by one, only to lose track and have to start all over again.
"If this had happened in Nigeria or anywhere else in Africa, the whole world would be pointing fingers at us," Fortune Akabuka, a Lagos cab driver, told the Associated Press.
Russia's Mr. Veshnyakov spent Election Day in Illinois, observing the vote in a number of Chicago area precincts.
"We were familiar with the history of voting in Chicago," he said, referring to well-known charges of vote fraud in the 1960 election and in numerous state and local ballots in Cook County.
"But we saw that a lot has been done to exclude precedents like that today," he said. "Presently, my sense is they have minimized the opportunities for any fraud."
But Mr. Veshnyakov said he did notice one problem that also has figured prominently in the Florida fight confusing ballots.
"I was personally unpleasantly surprised at how many candidates the voters had to choose from," he said. "There was something like 12 or 13 judges listed, and I had the impression many voters did not know who they were voting for."
Russia's Central Election Commission has come in for criticism itself for its handling of the March 26 presidential election, where President Vladimir Putin barely cleared the 50 percent mark, avoiding a runoff with Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov.
The Moscow Times and other Russian outlets have published accounts of inflated vote totals and suspicious patterns in voting from the country's 89 electoral districts. But Mr. Veshnyakov said the higher vote totals reflected the inclusion of ballots from Chechnya and more liberal absentee voter rules.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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