MOSCOW -- Opposition activists alleged a slew of violations during voting in Russia's parliamentary elections despite efforts taken by the authorities to give the appearance of a clean vote.
Activists shared videos of suspect incidents online, making allegations of major violations such as ballot stuffing, while activist Leonid Volkov claimed that even President Vladimir Putin is powerless to stop what he called a "system" liable to fraud.
Ella Pamfilova, the new Central Election Commission chief who promised to resign in the event of fraudulent elections, said the vote was "entirely legitimate."
She said her organization recorded two times fewer violations than in earlier election campaigns, but that results will be annulled at three polling stations due to attempts at ballot stuffing.
"I am not euphoric or in a hat-throwing mood, let's wait for that, but in any case there is full certainty that the elections have been held entirely legitimately, and we have done a lot to make that happen," she was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.
Ahead of time, election officials and other authorities had made clear efforts to try and organize an election free of the fraud that had tainted previous votes.
Initial results showed the ruling United Russia party holding onto its dominant position in the 450-seat State Duma, with three other main parties also maintaining positions in legislature.
The outcome was unlikely to undermine Putin's grip on power, but the Kremlin was wary of a repeat of the December 2011 parliamentary elections where allegations of voter fraud ignited mass protests in Moscow and elsewhere.
In March, Putin appointed Pamfilova, a respected liberal politician, as the election chief, replacing Vladimir Churov who became known by his detractors as the "magician" during a controversial nine-year tenure.
But authorities also moved to restrict the ability of nongovernmental organizations and independent observers to monitor the vote.
The respected group Golos was designated a "foreign agent" -- an official label that echoes Soviet-era pressure tactics -- as was the survey group Levada Center, whose surveys had shown a drop in support for United Russia.
Throughout voting on September 18, Pamfilova responded to fraud allegations with tough rhetoric, even threatening to annul the results in the Siberian region of Barnaul if allegations of underhand practices were proved.
Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition politician running for the Yabloko party, alleged the widespread use in the region of "carousel" voting, whereby people are transported to multiple polling stations and vote under other people's names.
Golos, said it had logged 427 allegations of violations over its hotline by early evening, just hours before the polls closed.
The group also said 200 of the reports had come from Moscow and that they included possible violations such as carousel voting, ballot stuffing, forced voting, and irregularities involving absentee ballots.
Social Media Claims
Meanwhile online, social network users were poring over surveillance videos recorded at polling stations.
Beslan Uspanov, chief editor of Kavkaz Polit, posted several videos of separate incidents in which women nonchalantly posted multiple ballot papers into ballot boxes in the restive southern region of Dagestan:
Another video shared on Twitter by Golos showed an election official in Nizhny Novgorod surreptitiously produce a clutch of ballot papers from under her other papers and put them into the ballot box:
Nikolai Lyaskin, an ally of opposition leader and anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny, posted photographs of alleged carousel voters being transported in a bus in the Moscow district of Sviblovo:
Aleksei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy who headed an election monitor in the capital, however, said that there were no serious violations in Moscow and not a single proven instance of carousel voting.
In St. Petersburg, a journalist for the Fontanka news site alleged that he had been able to obtain a ballot paper under a different name by employing an illegal technique used by carousel voters.
And two widely shared videos from a polling station in Rostov-on-Don appeared to show staff create a human wall in front of a ballot box to obscure it from view, while a women stuffed ballots papers into the box:
Sergei Yusov, the head of the Rostov Oblast Election Commission, reportedly promised an investigation that would be "seen through to the end."
But opposition activists like Volkov were skeptical, claiming that even Putin could not stamp out fraud because, he argued, it was in the interest of regional governors to falsify elections.
"In short, the voting system in Russia is built in such a way that there is no authority that could force the regional authorities to not falsify the elections," Volkov wrote on Facebook.
"Because at the very least, every governor knows that if he stupidly holds 'honest elections' he will end up with nothing, while all his neighbors who work 'as normal' will get a lot of [happiness]," he wrote.