Why do so many authoritarian regimes bother with voter fraud and ballot stuffing? For example, after Hitler's annexation of Austria, intrusive propaganda and threats were used to make everybody vote for the Anschluss, but historians seem to think that the votes were correctly counted. In the case of Soviet elections, people were presented with pre-marked ballots and had to non-secretly erase the marks to vote against Communist.

More recently, Putin's United Russia party was suspected of stuffing ballots after polls are closed in remote regions of Russia, such as Chechnya.

Why did authoritarian regimes need to do this? I mean, they can easily hold a fair election without election-time fraud, completely ignore the voting results, and make up a number. They could even make up a number that looks democratic, like 58% support of the ruling party, rather than the ridiculous 99% support ratios garnered with intimidation and ballot stuffing. Electoral observers would also be satisfied. Why don't they? Do authoritarian regimes typically have weak control over the vote counting people?

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    It sounded silly at a first sight, instead is a very interesting question!
    – o0'.
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 19:03
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    Always good to have documentation that support your claims, even if said documentation is completely bogus.
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 19:07
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    Actually I wouldn't call Putin's regime an "oppressive regime." However, take Kim Jong-un, who recently won 100% of the votes (faked it). Or Assad not too long ago.
    – Shahar
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 20:04
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    "You know, comrades," says Stalin, "that I think in regard to this: I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how." - Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin
    – user4012
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 22:50
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    Elections in Soviet Union should not be used as example because it was only candidate on the ballots. So it was no way for anyone to vote against communists. However elections were not mandatory.
    – lowtech
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 22:29

8 Answers 8


This answer applies to post WWII European soviet style societies:

Votes were not about gauging or displaying public support for a position, but demonstrating and moulding public opinion behind a previously agreed position, or "line." That people turned out to "vote" at all was a demonstration of the nomenklatura's control over workers, and of workers acquiesence to this control. This was as true in parliamentary elections as local monthly meetings; in mass "protests" and in public inquests. The purpose of voting in the soviet style societies was fundamentally different to that of the West.


  • Đilas. The New Class

  • Aczel and Meray. The Revolt of the Mind.

  • Haraszti. Worker in a Worker's State.

  • Great answer. The opposition was made to bend and to believe opposition was futile
    – user9790
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 13:12
  • What's the difference between displaying public support and demonstrating public opinion?
    – TZubiri
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 2:48
  • The subject is different. The public displays its support for one or a number of options. The nomenklatura moulds opinion behind a single line. Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 3:17

Regarding your exact question. There are regimes with no elections. For example, Saudi Arabia. British queen is also not elected. So if you do not want elections and competition, you just do not conduct it.

There is actually no benefit in conducting fake elections compared to not conducting elections at all.

  • Your fake elections will not convince anybody.

  • Any government, democratic or not, is interested in keeping legality. Faking elections would mean forcing some low-level personnel to conducting a crime. This undermines the state, the order and the ideology.

  • But isn't ballot box stuffing etc. also a crime?
    – Minix
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 13:05
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    From the viewpoint of a totalitarian regime, there is a benefit of a sham election: You can mark the ballots with invisible ink and use this to identify people who vote "incorrectly".
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 0:58
  • You are oversimplifying a complex issue.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Apr 12 at 14:31

I can't speak to the reason for having elections in the first place, but I'm pretty sure the reason for the overwhelming percentages is psychological. If you say that 58% of the people support you, that means that 42% of them are unhappy under your leadership. That, in turn, means that the dictator is doing something wrong, because his people are unhappy with him.

In addition, telling people who may be unhappy that there are that many other dissatisfied people tells them that they're not alone in their dissatisfaction, which can encourage them to do something about it.

Far better to make it seem like everyone overwhelmingly supports the dictator, even if other countries can easily dismiss the results.

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    Ugh. Still ignoring my main question. They can easily pull up the 99% number from thin air instead of going through the shenanigans to actually make sure 99% of the ballots in the box are for the dictator.
    – ithisa
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 16:29
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    @user54609 - Yes, I'm deliberately ignoring the main question, because I don't have an answer for it. This was just in reference to "Why not make up a number that looks democratic?"
    – Bobson
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 17:07
  • A recent US president certainly didn't care that 55% of people were unhappy with him. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 14:43

One does not exclude the other. Since there could be many different cases where the two actions could coexist for different reasons.

  • Authoritarian regimes that bar challenging candidates: Here the rigging is evident, but if they allowed the challenging candidates and manipulated the count the election would be even less credible, even without exit polls people could see the mismatch. It is better an election evidently rigged, but where the main candidate gets a huge majority, it leaves some uncertainty about the amount of rigging and the real support for the regime. Every side will be allowed to make their own assumptions. Making the exercise as credible as possible might not be enough at home, but still needed to save the face on the international stage.

  • Regimes that are not compact as it seems: Local leaders might be jostling for power in their own areas, this would lead to ballot stuffing only where they are powerful enough to do this. It would not prevent others from adjusting the counts later, but there is a limit to the amount of adjustments they can make without spooking the local candidates or triggering further protests.

  • Regimes that have to deal with ongoing local protests: Actions like ballot stuffing might let people believe that it is necessary because the final count is not manipulated. In this case it could actually add some credibility to an election with little credibility.

In all the cases it is better to keep in mind that even without exit polls people wonder after the elections who voted this or that candidate. If the count is too far from the real voting intentions the fraud becomes evident. This is why often regimes spread voices and rumours like: "people in that poor rural area sold their vote for a bag of rice". In other cases they simply spread allegations of ballot stuffing because it gives the impression of small manipulations at a low level, letting people believe that the counting done at a high level was fair.


In every elections in a country with real politics there are accusations that somebody cheated at the elections. This is indicative that the country has real politics and sharp controversies.

Conversely, in countries with deeply rooted dominating ideology the elections usually conducted calmly, without any scandals, unrest and accusations.

  • I mean, the elections could definitely be contested by other people...Also certain regimes, like China, tolerate dissent to a certain extent but do not listen to them at all, thus are still authoritarian.
    – ithisa
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 21:16
  • @user54609 I think the US listens to dissent much less than China.
    – Anixx
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 5:23
  • Second option bias ;) Everybody thinks their own country is the worst. Seriously, promoting dissent is exactly what lobbying is, and lobbying is huge in the US. Don't even try to influence the government in China. This includes "call your representative" ads etc. I don't even know who the People's Representative of Beijing is in the NPC -_-
    – ithisa
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 12:03
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    Americans believe that Americans believe that any country is worse than theirs. I haven't actually met an American that doesn't complain all the time about America, and how "Americans think they are so important".
    – ithisa
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 2:29
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    @user54609 you should ignore Anixx, he is a Soviet-bot and I doubt he has ever been to the USA, just spends alot of time on stack exchange sites complaining about the USA without any knowledge of how partisan party politics in the US actually is. Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 16:28

There are three main reasons I can think of. First, it serves as a way to ensure you have internal control over your government. If you tell lower ranking officials to stuff the ballots and they do it, it confirms that you have power over them, which can tell the leadership if there's a problem brewing around the country.

The second reason is because of historical precedence. It worked in the past so why change the playbook?

The third reason is if they are asked to do a recount. If you fake the number and your opponents ask for a recount, then it can be easily proved that you faked the elections. Some people believe the results, so why not just stuff the ballots?

  • To expand on the first reason: the local officials might be eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the leadership in the hope of getting favors later. So it works in both directions.
    – MJ713
    Commented Apr 12 at 16:51

As a complement to Samuel Russell's really good answer: by cheating on the election count, instead of just making the numbers up, the dominant power tries to get away from elections as pure 'demonstrations of support on previously agreed lines' thus creating the feel of legitimate choice for at least some participants.

The old model of just making up results just stopped working in many places. I think it is good sign for democracy in general.


If you hold "fair elections", then you need to allow opposing parties to form and to gather, and also to be present in the media.

This is a threat to your government.

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    But if allowing opposing parties to form and be present in the media is a threat to your government, why even allow them? Why not just declare yourself president for life and eliminate all those opposing parties, rather than allow them to exist and participate in sham elections?
    – divibisan
    Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 16:44

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