At polling station no. 333 in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, Reuters reporters only counted 256 voters casting their ballots in a regional election on Sunday. People were voting across Russia in what is seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential vote. Kremlin candidates for regional parliaments and governorships performed strongly nationwide. When the official results for polling station no. 333 were declared, the turnout was first given as 1,331 before being revised up to 1,867 on Tuesday. That is more than seven times higher than the number of voters counted by Reuters – with 73 percent of the votes going to United Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin. Election officials at the polling station said their tally was correct and there were no discrepancies. Reuters reporters were there when the polls opened at 08:00 until after the official count had been completed. They saw one man, who said he was a United Russia election observer, approaching the ballot box multiple times and each time putting inside voting papers. “We must ensure 85 percent for United Russia. Otherwise, the Tsar will stop providing us with money,” the man, Sergei Lyutikov, told a reporter, in an apparent reference to Putin.
Putin is the strong favorite to win re-election next year. Many voters credit him with restoring national pride. However, with the economy forecast to grow only 1 percent this year enthusiasm for Putin is not as strong as it has been. Political analysts say that could result in a weak election turnout.
Reuters reporters observed the vote at six polling stations on Sunday. At all six the reporters found discrepancies, of varying sizes, between the official vote tally and the number of voters the reporters counted. The reporters were present for the entire voting day except for in one place where a reporter missed the start because they were initially not allowed in.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not immediately respond to requests for comments for this story.