Regional Elections Fraught With Allegations of Violations

March 14 regional elections in Russia. Source: Nikolai Ryutin/RIA NovostiSunday was a day of regional elections for mayors and city legislators throughout the majority of Russia. Independent observers have already reported hundreds of allegations of voter fraud in every region of the country, with Golos electoral watchdog expert Leonid Volkov calling the elections “the filthiest in all of history.” United Russia, the leading pro-Kremlin party, issued a statement late on Sunday expressing its satisfaction with the elections, which it said were troubled by “no serious violations.”

As of Sunday night, official results of the elections had not yet been released.

The elections are widely being seen as a test of President Dmitri Medvedev’s stated desire to reform the country’s electoral system. Election observers and opposition parties were vehement in their denouncement of last October’s regional elections, which were fraught with accusations of blatant and widespread fraud and in which United Russia was overwhelmingly successful. The president refused to annul the elections, but he later made several proposals for reform, saying that United Russia “needs to learn how to win in an open fight.”

The prognosis so far is not very good. Reports of violations for the March 14 elections began pouring in during early voting before the elections even began. According to the online newspaper, the liberal Yabloko party was banned from running in legislative elections in every region of the country. Golos, Russia’s primary independent electoral watchdog, summarized the violations that had been reported throughout the day on Sunday: “unauthorized persons present at the polling stations, limiting the rights of voters, observers, the mass media and members of electoral commissions, as well as numerous cases of organized voting with absentee ballots, transportation of voters to polling stations, and bribing voters in some regions.”

The list of reported violations includes many that Golos is calling “typical” and that have been noted in Russian elections for years. Sunday’s reports that companies, universities, and the military have organized expeditions to voting stations and forced their members to vote for United Russia are nearly identical to reports from during Russia’s presidential election in 2008. Similar, too, was abuse of the absentee ballot system: Russians are not allowed to vote by mail, and instead are allowed to cast an absentee ballots at any polling station that they chose. Historically, the system has enabled widespread violations.

Below is a sampling of Golos’ 461 recorded allegations of voter fraud and electoral violations.

• Ostrogozhsk. Journalist Oleg Demidov from the Grazhdansky Golos newspaper was attacked by three unknown assailants who broke his camera. The police refused to detain the assailants and instead took Demidov to the police station. Additionally, photographs of United Russia candidates had been hung on the walls of several of the town’s voting stations.

• Yekaterinburg. Workers at the Uralmash machine manufacturer were transported to voting stations and ordered by their managers to vote for United Russia. It is worth noting that Uralmash’s largest stockholder is Gazprombank, which is owned by the government-controlled oil giant Gazprom.

• Yekaterinburg. Workers at the Pnevmostroymashina factory were ordered to vote for United Russia by absentee ballot at a polling station designated by the company, and to photograph their ballot while they were in the voting booth to show to management the next day.

• Berezovsky. A bus was observed carrying voters from the nearby city of Yekaterinburg who came to the town, voted by absentee ballot and then left.

• Ivanovo. Fifty students at the Ivanovo Academy of Chemistry complained that the school had ordered them “to fulfill your constitutional right to vote early” and vote on March 11 for United Russia. They were also told “not to tempt fate, and, in the case that you don’t vote for the designated candidate, not to hope for a favorable attitude towards you in the future. Political myopia will be the basis for your expulsion from the university and troubles of a similar perspective.”

• Astrakhan. Unknown persons parked a car next to a polling station that was located nearby a building known for its beleaguered residents, and were distributing vodka in exchange for pledges of votes. The report did not specify what party the residents were asked to vote for.

• Krasnodarsky Krai. A banner printed with “United Russia” was hung above the entrance to a voting station. According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, vodka and other hard liquor was being sold under the banner.

• Tula. After the fact, votes were noticed to have been cast by people known to be dead. Observers also noted that 500 ruble (about $17) coupons were being distributed to people in exchange for their promises to vote for United Russia. Additionally, journalists were barred from entering voting stations, and election observers were forced off the grounds of the local electoral commission.

• Ryazan. Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) candidate Yevgeny Dronov attempted to intervene when he saw people paying voters to cast their ballots for United Russia candidate Oleg Maslyuk. Immediately afterwards, several young men jumped out of an approaching car and began to beat him. The police officer who arrived at the scene refused to detain the assailants, failing even to ask for their identification.

• Ryazan. In an apparent attempt to humiliate the LDPR, unknown agitators were seen handing out bags of groceries printed with the LDPR logo.

• Yekaterinburg. Vladimir Mostovshchikov, electoral commission representative for of Sverdlovskaya region, announced on a local television channel that voters holding temporary registrations should feel free to vote wherever they wanted to even without using absentee ballots – which is illegal. He later attempted to deny that he said this, but Golos maintains that they have proof of the statement.

• Irkutsk. A court decision on Friday evening eliminated one of the main electoral candidates, but the candidate’s name was unable to be removed from the ballot in time. Voters and electoral commissioners alike were confused as a result.

• Omsk. Journalists were barred from entering a number of polling stations, and some were confined to areas designated for the media from which it was impossible to observe the electoral commission’s work. Despite this, journalists did note several instances of ballot stuffing.