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Allegations Of Electoral Violations Made Across Russia -- And Online

Members of the local electoral commission open ballot boxes at a polling station in Vladivostok.
Members of the local electoral commission open ballot boxes at a polling station in Vladivostok.
A video posted on YouTube appears to show a group of young people being bused from polling station to polling station in Moscow, casting ballots over and over again for the ruling United Russia party in the December 4 legislative elections.

In jumpy and grainy images, the video appears to show one alleged violator voting at several polling places in Moscow's Strogino district. In a calm voice, he explains step-by-step how it is done. By the end of the five-minute video, the man has voted 12 times, showing how he does it every step of the way.

He says he did it to "make some money" and claims he was promised an equivalent of $130 -- from whom it is unclear -- if he cast multiple votes for United Russia. The young man alleges that about 100 such voters were recruited just in Strogino.

Another video posted on YouTube shows a bus driver, who says he brought an organized group of voters -- presumably from the same employer -- to a polling station in the town of Alatyr, Chuvashia. Waiting outside the polling station, the smiling, unsuspecting driver tells the interviewer that he is scheduled to make more such trips on election day.

RFE/RL is unable to verify the authenticity of either of the videos.

Carousel Voting

Even before polls closed, accusations of vote-rigging and fraud -- all to aid the ruling United Russia party -- had been widely reported across Russia.

In the city of Novgorod, one voter, Alexander Kirillov, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that he noticed a bus carrying a load of young people pull up to one polling station to vote. After voting, Kirillov said, the group got back on the bus. Kirillov got suspicious and followed the bus. He said it stopped at another polling station, where the group got out and went inside, presumably to vote again.

Kirillov said that when he photographed the group, one member angrily confronted him.

The practice that Kirillov speaks of and which the YouTube videos allegedly chronicle has been dubbed "carousel voting." Critics say it is one of the many ways the Russian authorities have been able to pad the results of the ruling United Russia party.

Andrei Buzin, election monitoring chief at the monitoring watchdog Golos, said reports of "students" being bused to multiple polling stations are widespread.

"There are more reports coming in about illegal -- or borderline illegal -- voting," Buzin said. "There are many reports of voters being transported [to polling stations] and voting via absentee ballots. These two things usually go together -- a large number of people are bused to a polling station, where they use absentee ballots to vote."

Major Disappointment

The December 4 elections are shaping up to be a major disappointment for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which appears to have won roughly 50 percent of the vote, a sharp drop from the 64 percent the party won in 2007.

Liberal opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov estimates that voter fraud in favor of United Russia has beefed up the ruling party's total by 5 to 15 percentage points.

"I think the real percentage of votes United Russia received was from 35 to 45 percent," Ryzhkov said.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov says his supporters prevented an attempt at ballot-stuffing.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov says his supporters prevented an attempt at ballot-stuffing.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov claimed his party's monitors prevented an attempt at ballot-stuffing at a Moscow polling station. Zyuganov said they found 300 ballots already in the box before the start of the vote. According to Zyuganov, similar incidents were reported at other Moscow polling stations, as well as in the southern city of Rostov-na-Donu.

In the far eastern city of Vladivostok, The Associated Press reported that voters complained to police that United Russia was offering free food in exchange for promises to vote for the party. In St. Petersburg, an AP photographer reported seeing a United Russia emblem affixed to the curtains on a voting booth.

While official media in Russia have been mute on reporting such violations, focusing instead on satisfied voters, groups and websites trying to get the other side of the story out have been attacked.

The independent election monitoring group Golos, which had reported thousands of alleged election law violations before the vote, says its website was shut down by hackers early on December 4.

Golos, which receives financing from several Western governments, was fined 30,000 rubles (approximately $1,000) on December 2 for publishing an interactive map of electoral violations, which prosecutors alleged was itself a violation of Russia's election law.

Foreign-Funded 'Judases'

The case against Golos was launched after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Russian NGOs who receive foreign funding "Judases."

Also hacked were the websites of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station owned by the state natural-gas monopoly Gazprom but which is often critical of the Kremlin, and, a site that publishes nonmainstream news reports from across the vast country. The news portal was also the victim of a hacker attack.

Anger over alleged fraud has spilled over into the streets, with protests reported in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities. Expecting election-day trouble, authorities had deployed more than 300,000 police and army soldiers across the country.

In the Russian capital, police say more than 100 people were detained for holding an unsanctioned rally against the poll. Among those reported to have been detained in Moscow was opposition leader Eduard Limonov, who is planning to run in the country's presidential election next year.

The German news agency dpa reports police in Moscow also arrested some 70 protesters for handing out pamphlets against what they deemed "a dirty vote."

Security forces broke up a similar protest in St. Petersburg, where some 50 demonstrators were arrested.

With contributions from RFE/RL's Pavel Butorin
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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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