How Putin Tipped the Scales of the Russian Election
It's becoming difficult to keep track of the many complaints of election fraud following Vladimir Putin's overwhelming victory on Sunday in Russia's presidential election.
It's becoming difficult to keep track of the many complaints of election fraud following Vladimir Putin's overwhelming victory on Sunday in Russia's presidential election. While he won by more than 63 percent of the vote, the teary-eyed victory celebration was over-shadowed by charges of widespread voter fraud from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other independent monitoring groups. Given the low level of competition in Russia, Putin may very well have squeaked out a victory without the widespread fraud. (The U.S. State Department has already resigned itself to working with him.) But here's what undoubtedly helped tip the scales:
Absentee votes Somehow, some way, the Putin-loving people of Chechnya not only cast their ballots for the prime minister, who practically razed the region's capital Grozny in multiple, horrific military offensives since the '90s, but also helped propel a 107 percent turnout in Sunday's elections. Putin received 1,482 votes and his Communist opponent received one. Trouble is, there are only 1,389 people registered to vote there. It's not clear how the blatant display of fraud was carried out but a report by Andrew Kramer in The New York Times speaks with the head of the precinct's electoral commission who says absentee voting could've been the problem. Fraud via absentee ballot has been cited in a number instances around the country because it can allow people to acquire multiple absentee certificates for different polling stations. Russia's Central Electoral Commission ran out of absentee certifications (it had 2 million of them) before the first ballot was even cast.
"Carousel voting" The issue of "carousel voting" or allowing people to vote at multiple stations has also been cited, according to Radio Free Europe. "Fleets of buses packed with suspected 'carousel' voters were seen in Moscow on March 4. Activists from the pro-Kremlin group Nashi, among others, appeared to have been bused en masse from different cities to Moscow polling stations," reads the report. "The busing was so intense (the scale of 'carousel' voting was 'absolutely unprecedented,' according to Russian anticorruption blogger and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny) that the head of the Moscow Election Committee felt obliged to issue a clarification saying the Nashi activists were merely giving voters rides to polling stations."
Ballot-stuffing The oldest trick in the book. Simple ballot-stuffing doesn't appear to have been as widespread as the parliamentary elections in December but it still happened, and in some cases was caught on tape. (You can see an example from the BBC below and one caught by the Los Angeles Times here.) In the Times video, the ballot-stuffing occurred in the southern republic of Dagestan. Perhaps thankfully, the fraud caught in Dagestan did result in the annulment of votes in the region, according to officials.
Stealing the vote This is one of the most frustrating forms of voter fraud for citizens that are studious enough to go out and make it to the ballot box. "Voters turn up at a polling station to find out that someone else has already voted for them," reports Radio Free Europe. "In one instance reported by the Russian media, a victim of such fraud in Moscow received a threatening call on her mobile phone minutes after alerting polling station officials of the irregularity."
Webcam fraud The video in the ballot-stuffing example above comes courtesy of government-installed cameras at each voting station. Putin ordered 90,000 installed at a coast of $300 million, reports the Los Angeles Times. The jury is still out on whether this was a beneficial move. Critics say it's a scam because they only show fuzzy images of the ballot box and are sometimes used as stand-ins for actual voting monitors. Then there's the issue of the videos even capturing reality. In one example in the city of Magadan, a "live" feed to the ballot appeared to show day-time voting. Unfortunately for election officials, it was already night-time in the area, which Internet users were eager to point out.
Intimidation On Twitter, Oskana Dmitriyeva, a state Duma deputy aligned with the center-left, said her observers witnessed "numerous cases of observers being expelled from polling stations across St. Petersburg just before the vote count." The Turkish Weekly reports that "In the Moscow Oblast, pressure on election monitors took on a more menacing form. Gazeta.ru reported that Aleksandr Mavrin, an observer for presidential candidate Sergei Mironov, was told threateningly to leave a polling station before the vote count began. Mavrin was then phoned by his wife who informed him that the door of their house had been set on fire, forcing him to run home. His wife has been taken to the hospital."