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Election Observer Discusses Fraud Allegations In Southern Russian City



Video shot by Aleksandr Tsivenko, an election observer at a polling station in the southern city of Azov.

Allegations of fraud in Russia's municipal elections continue to pile up. And several undercover videos that have surfaced on the Internet now add weight to the charges.

One of the most compelling was shot by Aleksandr Tsivenko, an election observer at a polling station in the southern city of Azov. It's led the local prosecutor's office to open an investigation into possible ballot-box stuffing.

Tsivenko, an observer for the A Just Russia party, said investigators questioned him as a potential witness in the case. Anastasia Kirilenko of RFE/RL's Russian Service tracked down Tsivenko, who describes what he saw -- and filmed.

RFE/RL: Can you explain for us what happened at the polling station on October 11?

Aleksandr Tsivenko:
I was an observer at one of the polling stations, No. 1,638. I took a camera and a video recorder with me. This was not my first election. I have experience, and I know the electoral legislation.

At the polling station, which was located in a kindergarten, there were several storage spaces. You can see on the video that the doors had been sealed with the stamp of the election commission.

In the morning, I asked the head of the commission, Natalya Panchenko, and other committee members what was in the back rooms. They said they were just for storage. I asked if I could take a look but they said they were closed. I said that they should then be sealed and at my insistence, she sealed the room.

This can be seen on the video. The doors were sealed with a piece of paper and the seal of the election commission.

RFE/RL: When did you begin to suspect that falsification might be taking place?
A man with a banner reading "Give back the elections, bastards " at a protest against corruption in Moscow government ahead of the elections.


Tsivenko:
During the day, I observed no violations. The chairwoman tried to remove a representative from the Communist Party and demanded that a correspondent for the Communist Party newspaper "Azovskaya iskra" leave the premises. It was clear that something dirty was happening, and we began to look around.

There were five of us from A Just Russia. We formed a circle around the ballot box and didn’t let anyone put anything in it. Toward the end of the day, when it was time to count the votes, the chairwoman announced that 900 ballots had been issued. But observers had only counted 640 voters.

RFE/RL: How did you and other observers react to this?

Tsivenko:
We thought they were preparing to put extra ballots into the box, or that they already had and we had missed it. Then the election commission member from A Just Russia issued a written statement calling for the voting-process to be suspended and a recount of the ballots held.

We asked the chairwoman how many ballots had been counted. But she unexpectedly grabbed a stack of ballots and ran toward the storage room. Our observers blocked her path and held the door shut with our feet. We didn’t let her in. Then, as recorded on the video, we opened the back room and found on a table 300 ballots premarked for United Russia. Can you see the clips?

RFE/RL: Yes. But the video is dark. Is there a mark for United Russia? It is difficult to discern.

Tsivenko:
I have high-quality originals. On the original it is visible that the ballots are marked for United Russia, for their candidates.

RFE/RL: And you have shown investigators the original of this video?

Tsivenko:
Yes.

RFE/RL: And what happened next at the polling station?

Tsivenko:
After shooting the video, we called in reinforcements. Sergei Osinov from A Just Russia's regional office arrives. From the Communist Party, a deputy from the local legislative assembly and State Duma Deputy [Nikolai] Kolomeitsev also came. Representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the Communist Party, and A Just Russia gathered to figure out what to do next.

An investigator from the prosecutor's office also came and recorded all the facts. He took fingerprints and a wrote a report. Before the investigator arrived, some police officers -- a major, a captain, and a lieutenant colonel -- kept trying to speak privately with the chairwoman of the precinct election commission. They also wanted to take the ballots away in order to fill out their reports.

RFE/RL: But this didn't happen?

Tsivenko:
No, of course not. Who would give them to them?
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