Independent monitors and election experts allege that voter fraud and new tricks added 10 to 16 percent to Vladimir Putin’s official result of 63.6 percent in Sunday’s election, a finding that prompted some watchdogs to refuse to recognize the elections as legitimate.
Based on voting protocols from monitors, the independent Golos watchdog put Putin’s national result at 54 percent, while Alexei Navalny’s RosVybory group estimated his real vote at 49 percent – a result that would have sent the election into a second round. Another watchdog, Citizen Observer put Putin’s real vote at 48 percent.
Meanwhile, the League of Voters, a watchdog of opposition activists and celebrities, presented a report Wednesday based on copies of voting protocols from over 5,000 observers from 23 regions.Experts say different types of falsifications were used to greater or lesser extent depending on the region.
“In Moscow, which was covered by election observers better than any other Russian region, nighttime falsifications [rewriting of protocols] accounted for only around 2 percent of Putin’s poll, because forgers knew that observers were watching,” political analyst and election expert Dmitry Oreshkin told .
Across the country, the share of this kind of falsification is at least 10 percent, the League of Voters claimed.
Forgers have resorted to new methods in addition to traditional tricks like rewriting protocols, ballot stuffing and forced voting through absentee ballots, election experts said.
For instance, many people voted as employees of enterprises with so-called continuous production cycles – which meant that they could vote anywhere without an absentee ballot. According to Oreshkin, this allowed the same group of workers to vote several times at several polling stations.
“All of a sudden, a lot of enterprises turned out to have continuous production cycles in Moscow, for example Tekhnosila [a retail chain of household appliances],” Oreshkin said. Its employees voted at several polling stations, each claiming that they work in the vicinity and showing respective documents signed by their enterprise’s director. “This cannot be controlled because they don’t even have absentee ballots or other documents that can be tracked,” Oreshkin said.
Another method appeared to be creating new polling stations at the last minute, making it difficult for observers to prepare.
Monitor Ksenia Vinkova reported that an additional polling station was formed ahead of the elections in her district of Strogino. “The polling station covered only one block of flats with 300 residents, while another 1,087 people voted by additional lists as employees of enterprises with a continuous production cycle,” Vinkova wrote in her report. “Strogino is a residential community and there are no such enterprises here.”
Nina Ostanina, a State Duma deputy for the Communist Party, the only parliamentary party that has so far refused to recognize the election results, told Ekho Moskvy radio on Monday that just two days before the election, six additional polling stations were created in the town of Rybinsk in the Yaroslavl region, where United Russia polled less than 30 percent on December 4.
There March 4 was announced as a working day in all state-funded organizations, she said.
“Parties just had no time to prepare monitors or delegate commission members to these precincts,” Ostanina said.
Journalist and publisher Sergei Parkhomenko, a founder of the League of Voters, told The Moscow News that in his precinct of 3,007 voters over 500 people voted by additional lists. “We found they all came from three organizations, namely the Federal Road Agency and two theater colleges,” he said.
These new rigging methods could account for as many as 10 to 20 additional percentage points for Putin, according to Georgy Alburov, a coordinator of the RosVybory election monitoring project, through which over 17,000 volunteers worked as monitors in 81 regions.
“Most of our monitors reported that they had detected carousel voting, which was usually carried out by additional lists from enterprises,” Alburov said.
People were brought to precincts by car or in tour buses. Dmitry Oreshkin said that the League of Voters found that at least 30 buses with voters from the Tver region alone cruised across Moscow and the Moscow region on March 4.
In Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, nighttime falsifications were used more widely than in Moscow, the League of Voters claimed. Protocols were allegedly rewritten at 28 polling stations, where watchdogs estimate that about 44 percent of votes were added to Putin. His official vote tally in St. Petersburg stands at 59 percent.
Election experts admit that it is almost impossible to tell what is going on in Russia’s blind spots, where Putin has received 90 percent or more of the vote. Two out of 16 RosVybory monitors were beaten up in Chechnya, where Putin received 99.8 percent.
“In Chechnya and Dagestan they fill out protocols in whatever way they want, regardless of the real results,” Oreshkin said.
Parkhomenko said that it was extremely unlikely that the results will be canceled. “The only opportunity to prove in court that the vote was rigged is to show a forged protocol. Courts do not consider videos, photos, audio records and copies of protocols as evidence, only original protocols. But who would give them to a monitor?”
Parkhomenko added that he does not know of a single observer or watchdog winning a lawsuit against forgers after the Dec. 4 parliamentary vote, which was also widely alleged to be rigged.
According to Moscow’s Election Commission, there was not a single instance of so-called “carousel voting” in Moscow.
But pro-government experts insisted the official vote count was a pretty accurate reflection of people’s preferences.
“Putin clearly is supported by the majority,” political analyst Sergei Markov, a member of United Russia, told The Moscow News. He added that Putin’s electorate was mobilized ahead of March 4 because many believed in the possibility of an Orange revolution.
According to Markov’s estimate, only about 2 percentage points may have been added to Putin’s vote count by overzealous election officials in the regions.
“I call this phenomenon a selftwisting spring of bureaucratic hyper-loyalty,” Markov said. “I think the role of carousel voting on March 4 is exaggerated because the opposition reported all the buses they saw as carousel buses. But those were mostly people that came to Moscow for a pro-Putin rally from other regions, and they voted with absentee ballots.”