Election Day: Bomb Scare in Moscow; Numerous Reports of ‘Carousels’ and Busing of Workers to Vote; Tampering

September 18, 2016
Russians vote at a school. An observer said that voters who had already submitted absentee ballots were voting again at this district.

LIVE UPDATES: Today Russians go to the polls to elect members of the national parliament, local legislatures and governors. Monitors report massive violations across Russia, notably use of the notorious ‘carousel’ system of multiple voting, ballot-purchasing, intimidation of monitors and ballot-box tampering.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Officials Vow Probe of Ballot-Box Stuffing in Rostov; More Incidents Found in Rostov, Dagestan

As we reported earlier, incidents of ballot-box stuffing have been videotaped in Rostov at Voting Precinct No. 1958; now there are new reports from the same district and also from Dagestan.

Russian media and social media has dubbed the video uploaded to YouTube by Andrei Zherebilov as stenochka which means “little wall,” as it can be seen how three election workers form a wall to block access to the ballot box (and visibility) while a fourth worker stuffs the box with numerous votes, in batches.

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There does not appear to be any good reason for this.

Lenta reported that during a televised briefing with Ella Panfilova, head of the Elections Commission, Sergei Yusov, head of the Rostov Region Elections Commission said that an investigation would be made of the incident.

Yelena Bochkareva, secretary of the Territorial Election Commission said that officials had gone to check the precinct in Rostov and “would take measures.”

As we reported earlier, Pamfilova threatened journalists and observers who reported “carousels” (multiple voting) and other violations with libel suits if they gave false information. She said that only voting in Altai had been confirmed as a problem and votes have been disqualified. 

Meanwhile, Zherebilov has now uploaded to YouTube a second video which appears to show another ballot box at the same precinct in Rostov, also being stuffed.

Translation: Once again Precinct No. 1958 in Rostov. Now the stuffing of the ballots is at a second box. The girlfriends are covering.

Election workers form a “wall” again as a worker stuffs the ballot box. 

There was also a report from Dagestan:

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Election Day: Bomb Scare in Moscow; Numerous Reports of ‘Carousels’ and Busing of Workers to Vote; Tampering

Today, September 18, Russians go to the polls to elect members of the national parliament, governors and local legislators. 

Russia is the largest country in the world, with eleven time zones. So some Russians began voting at the equivalent of yesterday GMT.

Russians have voted from space (one cosmonaut, Anatoly Ivanishin, is circling the planet) and from Odessa, Ukraine (where three activists including one from the ultra-right group Right Sector were detained for attempting to block them).

Live-blogging of the elections can be found in Russia by independent media Gazeta.ru, Novaya Gazeta, and TV Rain and reporting by pro-Kremlin media at Lenta.ru. 

A story that has dominated Russian news coverage of elections, today, to the exclusion of local reports on elections, has been the Ukrainian government’s refusal to cooperate with Russian elections on Ukrainian territory.  Entry to Russian consulates has been obstructed by demonstrations.

There have been reports throughout the day of the usual plagues of Russian elections — purchase of votes; blocking of observers; and the practice of “carousels,” which is when people are bussed from one precinct to another to vote repeatedly, or to vote in person after they’ve already submitted absentee ballots.

A bomb scare was called in to Voting Precinct No. 10 located in a colleage building at No. 4 Armyansky Lane in Moscow. A suspect was quickly detained.

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Firemen at the site of a bomb scare in Moscow. Photo by Gazeta
2016-09-18 13:07:18

Translation: Mayor Sobyanin: Thanks to police workers. A provocateur who had threatened an explosion was quickly and professionally detained at the 10th voting precinct.

Moscow police said they had received a tip about “certain political forces” (not identified) who were going to “stage provocations disturbing the peace for the purpose of discrediting the work of the elections commission and law-enforcement bodies.” They expected an “unauthorized rally” and urged citizens to report any suspicious activity.

Low Turn-Out

As of noon, turnout was only 17.11% throughout the country. By noon, only 1.76% of the electorate had turned out to vote in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, only 2.66%. In Russia’s Far East in Primorsky Territory, turnout was 25.48%. The polls closed at 21:00.

But there was one group in the population where 65% turnout was recorded: from some 50,000 inmates in Russia’s prisons. 

Perhaps the lowest turn-out was in Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic, where Rashid Temrezov was elected head of parliament with only 49 votes, Gazeta reported.

Kadyrov promised 90% turnout and claimed not to care whether he was elected because “I love the people and the people love me.”

“Massive” Violations 

Citing a civic group called Russia Votes, Interfax reported “massive” violations:
– 375 filled-out ballots discovered in Krasnodark Territory; list of voters numbered in pencil; additional lists added
o In Nizhny Novgorod, two observers were unlawfully expelled from the precinct; election workers claimed they came from a “non-existent” party, but it turned out the chair of the elections commission was not informed of the parties participating in elections
o In Tomsk, Novosibirsk and elsewhere, there was electioneering near ballot boxes which is prohibited by law.
o In Moscow Region and in Russian-occupied Crimea, people were bussed to the polls.
o In Buryat Republic, there were complaints about the purchase of votes for one candidate; this report is being checked.

o Filming was prohibited at many precincts.

In St. Petersburg, 550 patients from Psychiatric Clinic No. 7 in St. Petersburg were bused to vote at precinct no. 44 at No. 134 Fontanka Embankment, an observer told Gazeta.

Monitoring and Voting Difficulties

The opposition party Parnas, which had an online map for reporting violations announced that the program was malfunctioning, and that the only way to collect reports now was to send reporters to precincts. Anna Fyodorova, a Gazeta reporter, said there was a report that 200 people who had already filed absentee ballots had been bussed to vote again at precinct no. 243.

Golos (Voice), the monitoring organization which was declared a “foreign agent” and closed, then organized an informal movement to observe elections, said that the job was made more difficult than ever. Under changes to electoral law introduced by President Vladimir Putin, each candidate could only have two observers at each precinct, and all observers had to be registered and approved.

Because they had to submit lists of observers in advance, Golos found that observers were intimidated at work and told not to participate, and they lost lots of volunteers. 

Massive mechanical failure of the ballot processing systems was reported in Samara.

The Communist Party complained that in a precinct in St. Petersburg, their party was crossed off the ballot.

Numerous Reports of “Carousels” or Multiple Votes

“Carousels” have been reported in a number of districts:

– in Krasnoyarsk, there were reports of “carousels” by two city council deputies, Aleksandr Gliskov and Vladimir Vladimirov. Jobless people registered in Kirovsky District were rounded up and brought first to one district, then a second to vote. They were detained and brought to police, however.
–  In one of the most disturbing reports of the Russian elections, Gazeta obtained an audio tape from the district Sokolinaya Gora in Moscow, where Aleksandr Aksyonv, the head of the district, asked factory directors to “gather up your absentee ballots,” and implied they should vote multiple times to ensure 58% of the votes for United Russia.

“There is a definite task here. Just as you give an assignment, so it’s the same here. The plan, according to forecasts….orient yourself, 58 [percent] or thereabouts must be collected. With agitation, persuasion, or whatever is needed…but that’s the guideline. Well, plus or minus won’t be prohibited.”

Aksyonov asked factory directors and heads of businesses to give him lists of both current and past employees who could work during the elections; he urged those at the meeting to collect the workers’ absentee ballots and send them to him.
“The second  point — including in the list people who left, who resigned. No one intends to check this or intends to catch you at this. We will collect everything and submit it.”
Aksyonov added, “We have made an agreement with the commission — it will work in this way,” indicating collusion with election workers. 
There was more. “The rector of the Church of St. Demetrios Bishop Aleksandr has blessed us for good deeds,” Aksyonov added.

In Dagestan, the same people were filmed voting at multiple districts.

The photo shows a woman in a patterned outfit at precinct 1111 at School No. 7 in Makhachkala, then later at another voting booth in the same precinct on Tankayeva Street.

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2016-09-18 12:27:39

According to a closed poll conducted by the Foundation for Public Opinion (FOM), United Russia’s rating was at 29% before the elections.
Translation: Voting Precinct No. 461. All are absentee ballots. Other people are deciding the vote for Muscovites.

Translation: Communist Party of Russian Federation: Observing these lines of ‘carousel riders’ you make a clear conclusion: the President’s pledge for honest elections is being CYNICALLY ignored.

Intimidation of Reporters and Voters 

But both independent media and observers’ groups were discouraged from reporting what they saw or heard: at noon, Ella Pamfilova said she had not received any information about violations (except for Altai) and threatened that anyone falsely reporting about “carousels” and “absentee ballots” would face charges of libel, Gazeta reported.

“They’re trying once again to cause hysteria and speculate on the topic of absentee ballots, that there are some sort of ‘carousels’ with absentee ballots — this is total nonsense. Especially regarding Moscow and Moscow Region, they [absentee ballots] have been given out in an insignificant number. If such statements will continue to be made we will simply take them to court for libel, for deliberate attempt to discredit the elections. If there are some facts, let them send it to us, we will react.”

A man was detained in St. Petersburg for tearing up his ballot and saying he was “against what is going on in Russia,” Gazetareported.

Compensation and Cash for Voting for United Russia

At some precincts, there were either refreshments provided for voters or sale of cheap articles to entice them to come to vote. First-time voters in Moscow were given a free ticket to a concert.

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Sale of products by election booths. Photo by Ilya Nemchenko/Novaya Gazeta
2016-09-19 13:58:35

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2016-09-18 12:19:27

Yabloko, an opposition party, reported ballot buying.
Translation: Buying of voters in Khimki. A United Russia calendar is given for each ballot, then upon exit, cash is given for the calendar. Reported to police.

Blatant Ballot-Box Tampering

Cameras were installed in many precincts throughout Russia (although Ramzan Kadyrov forbid them in Chechnya). 

Translation: they have turned on monitoring of 3,500 voting precincts in Moscow.

This didn’t mean that violations were necessarily deterred. Gazeta published a clip, noting only “No Comment” (see 12:34) showing a man emptying an only part-full ballot box before the polls closed, and several workers counting them and some of them writing on the ballots.

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2016-09-18 12:19:36

Ballot-box stuffing was also allegedly caught on camera at Voting Precinct No. 1958 in Rostov-on-Don, Gazeta reported:

УИК 1958 | Ростов-на-Дону | Вброс

Details… →

Sep 18, 2016 17:04 (GMT)

At the beginning of this video, we see how voting is supposed to be done in Russia: a woman in a red blazer approaches the ballot box with the ballot she has already filled out, and inserts the long slip of paper into the box, then walks away.

But at 0:29, we see that a woman in a blue jacket, evidently an election worker, approaches the ballot box next to the first one, and then begins stuffing dozens of ballots into it, in batches. There are two videos spliced together here, and the view of the ballot box is obstructed in the first one, so it’s not clear where the ballots came from; they appear to have been stacked on top of the box.

Gazeta reporters said that at one precinct, people were coming in, looking at the portraits of the candidates hanging on the wall, and deciding at the last minute which one was the most handsome, and voting for that person.

In one precinct, a candidate arrived and found portraits hanging above the voting booths of Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister and chair of the United Russia party; President Vladimir Putin, who is not running in elections (because these are not presidential elections); and only one candidate, from United Russia. He complained that it was a violation, and election workers then took down the portraits of all three.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick