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A member of a pro-Russian self defense unit walks within a polling station while guarding it in the municipality of Dobroe, near Simferopol, Ukraine,Thursday, March 13, 2014. In a last-minute bid to stave off a new chapter in the East-West crisis over Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia on Thursday that it faces immediate and "very serious" sanctions if it annexes Ukraine's strategic Crimea region. The warnings from the West served as a last attempt to head off a confrontation over Crimea, which holds a vote Sunday on whether to break off from Ukraine and perhaps join Russia. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

Manu Brabo/AP

The Crimean parliament seems to have been influenced by Tobias Hobson, a 17th-century English stable operator who habitually said to a customer seeking a horse, "Choose whether you will have this or none."

The Crimean referendum on Sunday will offer the electorate two options that are really the same thing. A voter can choose to support reunifying Crimea with Russia, as a constituent part of the Russian Federation. Or, a voter can support the "restoration" of the 1992 Crimean constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine. That Crimean constitution was a short-lived declaration of independence by the Black Sea peninsula's parliament in May, 1992; under it, Crimea was independent within Ukraine, and able to end those ties. It appears that voters have to choose between two different paths of exiting Ukraine. The status quo? Not on the ballot.

Crimeans will at least get to make this non-choice in their choice of languages. A voter can exercise the franchise in Ukrainian, Russian or Tatar.

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Meanwhile, the Crimean parliament has already declared independence.

Compare this farce with the Quebec referendums of 1980 and 1995. The questions were criticized, and with good reason, but they at least offered a choice between yes and no. Both Quebec referendums were debated over periods of months. Sunday's vote in Crimea is being held in haste, with no time for discussion and deliberation (political debate and protest are essentially forbidden), under the gun and in the midst of a Russian invasion.

We feel for those residents of Crimea who'd like to return to the state of affairs of just a few weeks ago. Instead, they're being offered the chance to take part in an autocrat's fantasy of a democratic consultation.

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