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- Recent social media posts have juxtaposed two statements about counting votes in elections that are attributed to Joe Biden and the late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. But it’s unlikely Stalin ever said that, and Biden’s words have been taken out of context.
Though divided by countries, decades and ideologies, former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and President Joe Biden are being compared in a recent Facebook post that looks at the purported words of both men.
"It’s not who votes that counts," Stalin supposedly said. "It’s who counts the votes."
Biden, meanwhile, is quoted as saying: "The struggle’s no longer just who gets to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote."
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Let’s start with Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for nearly three decades. In 2019, we checked a similar claim that he said: "It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."
We rated that attribution false because there’s no authoritative source that proves Stalin said it. The abbreviated version that appears in this Facebook post also lacks a credible citation.
Members of an editorial board for the Stalin Digital Archive, a database of documents and images that resulted from a collaboration between the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History and Yale University Press, have told us that they don’t think Stalin said this, or anything close to it.
J. Arch Getty, a history professor at UCLA, said he wasn’t aware of any original source for the quote.
"In my extensive archival research in Stalin’s personal archive, I found nothing like this," Getty said. "There are many apocryphal quotes wrongly attributed to Stalin and I think this is one of them."
"Almost certainly apocryphal," agreed James Harris, a senior lecturer in modern European history at the University of Leeds in England.
"Many things that are attributed to Stalin are false," warned Ron Suny, a professor of social and political history at the University of Michigan.
But Mark Kramer, director of the Cold War studies program at Harvard University, pointed us to something close to the various voting statements that have been attributed to Stalin. In memoirs written after his retirement, Stalin’s former personal secretary, Boris Bazhanov, claimed Stalin said:
"Я считаю, что совершенно неважно, кто и как будет в партии голосовать; но вот что чрезвычайно важно, это кто и как будет считать голоса."
It translates to: "I regard it as completely unimportant who in the party will vote and how, but it is extremely important who will count the votes and how."
Bazhanov said Stalin was talking about the voting procedures for higher organs of the Communist Party, according to Kramer.
"There is no way to know for sure whether he is accurately recounting Stalin’s words, if Stalin in fact said such a thing," Kramer said. "Hence, I regard this as a statement attributed to Stalin by his former secretary Boris Bazhanov."
David Brandenberger, a history professor at the University of Richmond, said Bazhanov fled the Soviet Union in 1928 and then published his "rather unreliable muckraking memoir in 1930."
"Most experts consider Bazhanov’s Stalin quotation to be apocryphal," he said.
Now for Biden.
The White House did not respond to PolitiFact’s questions about the post, and searching for the exact quote that appears in it, we found only one hit: a Reddit post. But Biden has made similar remarks on several occasions, referring to his concerns about the threat of election subversion.
In July, for example, Biden said: "It’s no longer just who gets to vote or making it easier for eligible voters to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote — who gets to count whether or not your vote counted at all. It’s about moving from independent election administrators who work for the people to polarized state legislatures and partisan actors who work for political parties. To me, this is simple. This is election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history. Never before have they decided who gets to count — count — what votes count."
"This struggle is no longer just over who gets to vote, or making it easier for eligible people to vote," Biden said in a video his account tweeted in October. "It’s about who gets to count the votes — whether they should count at all. Jim Crow in the 21st century is now a sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion."
In December he said: "Today, the right to vote and the rule of law are under unrelenting assault from Republican governors, attorney generals, secretaries of state, state legislators. They’re following my predecessor deep into the abyss. The struggle is no longer just who gets to vote or making it easier for eligible people to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all. It’s a sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion. It’s un-American, it’s un-democratic, it’s unpatriotic. And, sadly, it is not unprecedented now."
And speaking to reporters on Jan. 13 after meeting the Senate Democratic Caucus, Biden said: "State legislative bodies continue to change the law not as to who can vote, but who gets to count the vote — count the vote. Count the vote! It’s about election subversion, not just whether or not people get to vote. Who counts the vote? That’s what this is about. That’s what makes this so different than anything else we’ve ever done."
We sought some insight from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit law and public policy institute at the New York University’s law school. Wendy Weiser, vice president of the group’s democracy program, said there’s been a push in some states to "politicize the election administration process and to put partisans in a position where they might be able to engage in election sabotage."
In other words: Legislation like a bill in Arizona that would have empowered state legislatures to reject the results of an election, or a Texas bill that would have granted that power to an elected, partisan judge, according to the center.
But Biden’s comments were criticizing these efforts, Weiser said — not endorsing them. And suggesting that what he said is similar to a Russian dictator’s election policies "seems very implausible as an interpretation, and just not remotely believable."
Even if Stalin said the words about counting votes that have been attributed to him — and experts have told us they don’t think he did — context matters. Stalin consolidated power and oversaw an election that only allowed uncontested candidates. Biden, who is lobbying for the passage of voting rights legislation backed by Democrats, has been speaking out against efforts he says will give non-neutral parties control over election outcomes.
We rate this post False.
CORRECTION: This story was updated to correct the title of David Brandenberger. He is a history professor at the University of Richmond, not an associate history professor.
Facebook post, Jan. 24, 2022
PolitiFact, No, Joseph Stalin didn't say this statement about elections, March 27, 2019
White House, Remarks by President Biden at a Holiday Celebration for the Democratic National Committee, Dec. 14, 2021
White House, Remarks by President Biden After Meeting with the Senate Democratic Caucus, Jan. 13, 2022
White House, Remarks by President Biden on Protecting the Sacred, Constitutional Right to Vote, July 13, 2021
Joe Biden tweet, Oct. 23, 2021
Brennan Center for Justice, Voting Laws Roundup: December 2021, Dec. 21, 2021
Slavic Review, State and Society Under Stalin: Constitutions and Elections in the 1930s, 1991
Email correspondence with the Stalin Digital Archive, March 26, 2019
Email interview with J. Arch Getty, distinguished research professor of history, UCLA, March 26, 2019
Email interview with Mark Kramer, director of the Cold War studies program, Harvard University, March 26, 2019
Email interview with Ron Suny, professor of social and political history at the University of Michigan, March 26, 2019
Email interview with David Brandenberger, professor, Department of History, University of Richmond, March 26, 2019
Interview with Wendy Weiser, vice president of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, Jan. 26, 2022
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