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How To Rig An Election

Protesters gather behind a banner reading "Honest Elections" during a demonstration in Moscow on February 4.
Protesters gather behind a banner reading "Honest Elections" during a demonstration in Moscow on February 4.
The order has gone out to electoral officials to secure a first-round victory for Vladimir Putin in the upcoming presidential election and video cameras in polling stations won't do much to prevent the fraud.
These are two of the main takeaways from a video released on Wednesday in which Irina Kolpakova, an electoral commission official in charge of a polling station in Samara, recounts in detail how the authorities sought to falsify results in December's parliamentary elections -- and plan to do so again in the presidential vote on March 4.
In the video, Kolpakova says at her polling station the Communist Party won 356 votes followed by the ruling United Russia party with 232 and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats with 214. After submitting the results, she was told by local officials that United Russia's numbers needed to be revised upward.
"There was an attempt to influence these results, to get me to alter them, but I refused," Kolpakova said.
She said she was summoned by local officials to a district administration building together with other heads of polling stations whose results were not favorable to United Russia and where the numbers needed to be altered.
"The meeting didn't end in the way they expected because I simply could not do what they wanted," she said.
Kolpakova's little rebellion was not without its cost. She has been barred from working on the March 4 presidential election. And she doesn't exclude further reprisals for going public with her experience. "I understand that I am taking a risk by doing this," she said.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed her allegations as incomprehensible and "a provocation."
Kolpakova's experience provides a rare glimpse into the mechanics of how vote rigging takes place in Russia -- behind closed doors in government buildings far from the peering eyes of the electoral observers who monitor the count at polling stations.
Like the widely circulated videos of so-called "carousel voting" in December, in which individuals were bussed from polling station to polling station to cast multiple ballots, her story adds yet another vital bit of information about how Russia's "managed democracy" is managed on polling day.
And Kolpakova's story is not unique. reported today that an election worker in St. Petersburg, Tatyana Ivanova, said she was offered 70,000 rubles to "help United Russia" by inflating its candidates' vote totals. She refused and was fired.
It's not hard to imagine similar scenes playing out across Russia, albeit with less resistance.
In the video, Kolpakova said she expected similar falsifications to be attempted in the March 4 presidential election:
The protocols will simply be rewritten in the way they need them to be. The task is simple. Putin must win in the first round by a large margin, with more than 70 percent. It doesn't matter if there are web cameras in the polling stations. It doesn't matter how many observers there are or how much they film the voting. This will not prevent the falsification of the election results. It's absurd. I feel bad about how much taxpayers' money is being spent on this.
Kolpakova's allegations about the presidential election are consistent with reports in the Russian media. The daily "Kommersant" reported last week that election workers are not only being pressured, but also being offered incentives, to secure a decisive first-round victory for Putin:
According to information from the regions, electoral commissions are gearing up for the presidential elections to be completed in one round. In Stavropol Krai the opposition cited a resolution of the regional electoral commission [that includes provisions to] award extra bonuses to members of the territorial electoral the event that the elections are completed in a single round. Boris Obolenets, former leader of the regional branch of the Union of Right-Wing Forces and Right Cause, told "Kommersant" that information is coming in from the regions to the effect that electoral commission chairmen have received an instruction for victory in the first round at any price.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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