Russia’s political opposition dispatched a small army of volunteer election observers to keep lookout for voter fraud in Kostroma Oblast, where, having been barred from the ballot everywhere else in the country, the opposition was vying for a small victory in regional elections on September 13. Russian officials quickly touted the Kostroma voting and thousands of other contests across the country as models of “clean elections.” By 11 p.m. on election night, however, independent election-monitoring NGO Golos had clocked 1,736 allegations of election violations, compared to 901 on Russia’s nationwide voting day in 2014 and 747 in 2013. The opposition’s version of events differed sharply from the official version in Kostroma, 350 kilometers northeast of Moscow, where the opposition party Parnas was vying for seats in the regional legislature with activist Ilya Yashin atop its candidate list.
Voting had barely begun in the depressed province when allegations of violations began rolling in from observers like Anastasia Zotova, who postedincriminating photographs on Facebook and noted: “We found filled-out ballot papers in booths at polling station 139 for the head of Kostroma municipal region.”
There were several allegations of “carousel” or “cruise” voting, in which voters are shuttled around to cast ballots at multiple polling stations. Activist Leonid Volkov, a close ally of anticorruption blogger and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, used Twitter to instruct activists to keep their eyes peeled for specific buses and cars thought to be carting people around between polling stations, even providing license-plate numbers.
… Maksim Motin, a municipal politician in Moscow’s Pechatniki district and Putin critic who was volunteering as an election observer in Kostroma, appeared to have sighted a possible “cruise” bus: “What do you think, why is there a bus with people in it traveling to what is now already a third [polling station]?”