Here’s a reminder that as bad as American politics feel these days, it could always be worse. You could be voting in Russia, where veteran opposition politician Boris Vishnevsky recently got a look at his competition for his seat in St. Petersburg’s 50-seat Legislative Assembly and noticed something familiar—there were two other Boris Vishnevskys in the race, both of whom looked suspiciously similar to him. The 65-year-old incumbent is a member of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, which makes him an enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his many allied parties, well-orchestrated to give the impression of democracy in Russia.
The real Boris Vishnevsky says the two challengers not only changed their names, a common enough practice in Russia, to confuse voters, but that the candidates’ election photos had been fashioned to resemble Vishnevsky’s appearance.
Neither of the new Boris Vishnevskys have campaigned or had any public appearances at all, but they are on the ballot. “The only difference is their patronymic names—generally derived from the name of a father,” CNN reports. “In addition to the [original] … Vishnevsky Boris Lazarevich, there is Vishnevsky Boris Gennadievich, 43, and Vishnevsky Boris Ivanovich, 59… For the last two, the electoral commission website gives in brackets their former names: Shmelev Alexey Gennadievich and Bykov Victor Ivanovich.”
“At least one of Vishnevsky’s opponents, who until recently was named Viktor Bykov, is believed to have changed his appearance considerably for the photographs,” the Guardian reports. “In an official photograph used on a St Petersburg government website, Bykov had a full head of hair and looked years younger than the photograph submitted to the electoral commission.”
Vishnevsky filed a complaint with the election commission ahead of the Sept. 17-19 vote in Russia, but Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova, while calling the ruse an “embarrassment and an outrage,” said there was nothing she could do. According to Reuters, “[t]he commission rejected a complaint by Vishnevsky demanding that his rivals give their previous names on the ballot on the basis that the three candidates could be distinguished by their different middle names.”