Russian vote problems: Ballot stuffing, coercion, gimmicks

By FRANCESCA EBEL, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — Social networks buzzed all day Sunday with videos, photos and firsthand accounts of voting violations in Russia’s presidential election.
Election authorities said they will investigate all irregularities and annul results where needed. But the breadth of the reports was striking, and they may cast a shadow on the victory by incumbent Vladimir Putin.
Video authenticated by The Associated Press showed some of the apparent irregularities. Some also were reported by observers including representatives of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Golos monitoring group and ordinary Russians. Some examples:
BALLOT-BOX STUFFING
CCTV footage of a voting station in the Moscow suburb of Lyubertsy shows a woman taking a ballot from a table, looking around to see if anyone is watching, then putting it in the box. She repeats the action, again and again. Another woman, apparently a colleague at the station, joins her.
A video from Ilskhan-Yurt in Chechnya shows a man in a white cap repeatedly putting ballots in the same box.
In the Primorsky region of the Far East, a woman pulls papers from her jacket and stuffs them in the box.
Dozens of other examples of apparent ballot box stuffing were posted online.
The regional election commission said the results from the Lyubertsy station would be invalidated. Authorities sealed a ballot box in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don where ballot stuffing was reported, and are investigating similar allegations in Artyom in the far east.
ASSAULTING OBSERVERS
Video from a polling station in Makhachkala in the Caucasus Mountains republic of Dagestan showed local official Magomet Rasulov appearing to punch observer Malik Butaev before being led out by police.
Aida Mirmaksumova, who is collecting violations in Makhachkala, said burly men dressed in black dragged an observer for Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin on the ground as he shouted, “Help!” Others yelled: “Get out of here!” Amid the melee, people were seen stuffing what appeared to be ballots into a ballot box.
Zukhrab Omarov, an observer for liberal candidate Grigory Yavlinsky, said he was dragged away by police as he was trying to shoot video of violations in Makhachkala.
“They asked me to show my passport with my registrations, they were asking what I were doing and why, and they said that they would break my nose. They asked me why we were filming and they destroyed all the videos of the violations that we had taken, but some of them are already online,” Omarov said, displaying bruises and ripped pants from the incident.
FORCED VOTING
Residents in Perm, Yekaterinburg and Moscow showed the AP messages from employers pressuring workers to vote and requiring them to report on when and where they cast ballots. One worker said he feared he wouldn’t get his monthly bonus if he didn’t.
In Kudrovo in the Leningradsky region outside St. Petersburg, observer Sergei Dzhus discovered people apparently bused in to a traditionally low-turnout area to boost participation.
“From the very beginning, there were many, many people who came to our polling station,” he told the AP. He followed one group getting on a bus, but as he filmed, he said members of the group tried to shield their identities from the camera and refused to answer his questions.
Central Election Commission deputy chief Nikolai Bulayev defended the practice of busing voters to voting stations as “help” for those in remote areas poorly served by public transport.
GIMMICKS
There also were turnout-boosting gimmicks and state-funded campaigns, which were not technically illegal but tacitly helped the incumbent.
In Moscow, health officials offered cancer screening and discounted food products at polling stations. Some towns staged dancing, sports competitions and clown acts.
Prizes were offered at some polls for voters who wore the best costumes, and some people came dressed as bears, folk characters and medieval knights.
In the Leningradsky region, one man was photographed dressed as a Sarmat ballistic missile — perhaps hoping to capture the attention of the Kremlin as it expands its nuclear arsenal.
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Associated Press writers Angela Charlton and Kate de Pury in Moscow contributed.