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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Annals of Russian Vote Fraud

Other Russia reports:

The Union of Right Forces (SPS), the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), and Yabloko are asserting that mass-falsification has taken place during Russian elections to the State Duma on December 2nd. As the KPRF leader, Gennady Zyuganov, told journalists, around 20 techniques have been used to manipulate the results. Even as ballots are counted and the predicted results of a sweeping United Russia win emerge, more manipulations of the vote are surfacing. The following is a brief description and examples of some of the most widespread methods of fraud encountered on Election Day, as related by the threepolitical parties:

Voting with absentee ballots and voting on pressure from authorities

One of the major complaints that experts and voters alike are voicing is the rampant use of absentee ballots, which are difficult to trace and pin down to a particular individual. As electoral monitors from the SPS headquarters in Moscow have pointed out, a disproportionate share of absentee ballots are being used in polling places. Traditionally, such ballots are only used for individuals living in a different region than where they are registered to vote, and their widespread use in this election is unnecessary and alarming.

At polling station Number 1697, in the Autozavod district of Moscow, 40% of registered voters cast their decision using an absentee ballot. The voting process was administered by an observer from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

In a press-release, Yabloko announced that their observers flagged down and stopped a bus on the streets of Moscow. The vehicle was driving its passengers between polling stations, where they were voting multiple times with absentee ballots. Ivan Bolshakov, a candidate on the Yabloko party list, commented that the passengers were workers from the “Magnet” store from the city of Kovrov in the Vladimirsk oblast. They were apparently invited for an outing to Moscow, issued absentee ballots, and told to vote for United Russia. Before it was stopped, the bus had already visited several polling locations.

Observers from SPS noted a similar incident with a bus-load of people voting with absentee ballots in Eastern Izmailovo.

In the city of Slavyansk-na-Kubani, in the Krasnodarsk Krai, observers of the KPRF noticed a large share of university students voting under the direction of university vice-deans. The university officials were seen issuing absentee ballots to the students.

In St. Petersburg, employees of one vocational school and their families were being forced to vote for United Russia with absentee ballots, according to Yabloko. Janitors in the Golovinsk district of Moscow were under threat of dismissal, and were being told to receive absentee ballots and hand them over to their superiors.

In total, around 1 million 350 thousand absentee ballots were issued for the election, according to Nina Kulyasova, a representative of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).

Voting numerous times by visiting different polling stations

Individuals not registered and ineligible to vote have been caught at the polling station. These include citizens not carrying identification, and individuals registered at different polling stations from where they appeared. Many people have been allowed to vote without verifying their identity, opening up the election to multiple voting and fraud.

Yabloko reported that in the Moscow “Domodedovo” airport and in several train stations, migrant workers were casting ballots as if they were local citizens. The party also related an incident in the Krasnogvardeisk district of Moscow, where a representative of the CEC told two voters that United Russia must win no less than 80% of the vote, and issued 20 ballots to each of them.

One call to a hotline for electoral fraud revealed that a high-ranking employee of the Regional Electoral Commission of the city of Krasnoyarsk arrived at the polling station, took two ballots, and walked into the voting booth. Observers stopped her from voting twice, yet the Commission took no action, and did not suspend her from duties.

According to the KPRF, polling station number 2084 in Tatarstan was issuing two ballots to each voter, and was letting unregistered voters participate in the contest. In the city of Pskov, voters registered in other regions were allowed to vote without an absentee ballot.

Ballot stuffing and machinations involving electronic ballot counting machines

A large number of ballots in this election will not be counted by hand, but by special machines shortly after the vote is cast (known as KOIB - “КОИБ” in Russian). This allows officials at the polling stations to add ballots at will and throw off the count.

In polling station Number 63 in the Krasnoselsk district of Moscow, a SPS observer noticed a number of ballots already in the ballot box, even before the vote began. According to the KPRF, one polling station in Bashkortostan had 121 more ballots than voters. Similarly skewed numbers were seen in Moscow and other cities, and CEC officials were seen adding handfuls of extra ballots into their machines. At dozens of polling stations, electoral monitors and officials counted different numbers of voters, and in numerous instances, the monitors reported that the number of voters and ballots did not add up.

Observers have also noticed KOIB machines that were turned off or malfunctioning.

Campaigning at polling centers and voter bribery

According to electoral law, parties are barred from campaigning or trying to sway voters on Election Day. This has not stopped United Russia from coming out in full force. According to Yabloko, individuals in United Russia regalia were soliciting voters in Perm, St. Petersburg, as well as Pskov. Representatives of the party carried posters that said “Lucky # 10,” which corresponds to United Russia’s number on the ballot.

Voter bribery was also apparent in a number of cities. In the Tobolsk district of the Tyumen oblast, regional officials gave 100 rubles to each registered voter on December 1st, suggesting that they vote for United Russia. At polling center Number 625, individuals who voted for the party of power were given 1000 rubles, according to KPRF.

Portraits of Putin, the logo of the United Russia party, and countless other campaigning materials were discovered in polling stations across the country. In the Kurgansk oblast, television commercials urging voters to choose United Russia ran on the state-run channels all day Saturday and Sunday.

Voting from home

In the city of Svobodny, in the Amur oblast, employees of the electoral commission went door-to-door, and allowed voters to register and vote from the comfort of their own home. Similar cases were reported in other regions as well. Generally, voters must register at least three days prior to elections in order to participate.

Meanwhile, the Moscow Times reports on "freakish" voter turnout of nearly 99.5% in Chechnya, with 99.4% going to United Russia:

Chechnya and other North Caucasus republics reported nearly 100 percent voter turnout and a similarly high percentage of votes going to United Russia in the State Duma elections. One independent election observer described the results as "freakish," while the Kremlin and election officials explained that "special traditions" had motivated voters to turn out en masse. [LR: Stalin established that "tradition," didn't he?] In Chechnya, 99.5 percent of voters went to the polls Sunday, said Ismail Baikhanov, the head of the republic's elections committee. "578,039 out of 580,918 registered voters took part in the elections," he said, Interfax reported. United Russia received 99.36 percent of the vote.

This was the highest vote for United Russia in the country, where overall turnout was 63 percent, and about 64 percent of votes were cast for the party. Nationwide turnout was 56 percent in the last Duma elections, in 2003. Other Caucasus republics also reported high figures, with turnout of 98.3 percent in Ingushetia, 97 percent in Kabardino-Balkaria and 94 percent in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and a similar percentage of people voting for United Russia. In Dagestan, turnout was about 92 percent, with 89 percent supporting United Russia. North Ossetia seemed the odd one out, with a turnout of just 58 percent, Interfax reported.

The results startled some Western observers. Michael Collins, a U.S. television producer who came as an independent observer, told journalists in the Central Elections Commission that even an 80 percent turnout was impossible in a democracy, not to mention a show of 80 percent support for a single party. "Eighty percent? It's unheard of in the United States," he said. He said the results would be considered "something bizarre, something freakish" in the United States. "It is not a democracy," he said.

Lilia Shibanova, the head of Golos, the only independent Russian vote-monitoring group, said turnouts of this size were not credible and an indication of large-scale fraud. She said such high numbers could not be achieved even under pressure from the authorities. "They only show that electoral laws were violated," Shibanova said by telephone.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the figures were in line with North Caucasus tradition. "It does not mean that everybody voted but nearly everybody," he said, when asked whether it was possible to achieve a turnout of 99 percent. In fact, he said, the results show "the great respect of the people ... for President Putin and the republics' leadership." Peskov said strong support for the authorities was a unique regional tradition that "we have to respect." He also said United Russia and local leaders had been "quite proactive" ahead of the vote.

His words were echoed by Yusup Kostoyev, a member of Ingushetia's elections committee. "Our turnout has always been higher than in the rest of the country," he said by telephone. He said a high turnout was natural because of the mountainous republic's rural traditions. "We have no big cities, and in the villages it is considered everybody's duty to vote," he said. He also stressed that every effort was made to get out the vote, including a drive to bring ballots to voters hospitalized in intensive care wards. Kostoyev said this did not mean that the Ingush were docile. "We mountaineers retain our free will," he said.

Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial human rights organization, who was in Chechnya and Ingushetia for a week through Friday, said the turnout results were credible. But he argued that the reasons were rooted more in unfairness than tradition. "Just look at Chechen TV programs last week," he said. "They showed Ramzan Kadyrov all the time. There was not one program without him." United Russia was the only party that received airtime, he said. Kadyrov, Chechnya's president, headed the party's local list. Orlov said doctors, teachers and other state-paid workers had faced pressure to vote. Also, he said, there was fierce competition among rural communities. "No village can afford to trail in the statistics," he said.

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