Elections chief Vladimir Churov raised opposition hopes of overturning Astrakhan’s mayoral election by announcing widespread procedural violations, a claim made by candidate Oleg Shein and his supporters. Video footage revealed procedural violations at 128 of the city’s 202 polling stations during the March 4 vote, although there was no evidence of falsification, Churov told journalists Friday. The announcement was greeted with jubilation by Shein, whose refusal to concede the election to the ruling party candidate and a dramatic hunger strike have turned him into an opposition hero. “Our chances of success in court have been significantly improved,” he wrote on his blog. “Now I’m confident that the court will annul the election in Astrakhan.” Shein says he defeated United Russia’s Mikhail Stolyarov in districts with electronic counting machines as well as in exit polls, sparking allegations that the vote was rigged. Officially, Shein lost the election to Stolyarov by more than 30 percentage points.
Elections can be annulled due to procedural violations even without evidence of outright falsification, said Grigory Melkonyants of the Golos elections watchdog, Gazeta.ru reported. He warned, however, that the legal process can take months. Churov, who said violations should be handled by the court system, also announced steps to boost voter confidence by reducing procedural violations. The vote-counting procedure will be simplified, with electronic counting machines becoming standard by 2015, and tests for poll workers will be introduced, the chief of the Central Elections Commission said. Also, his deputy, Leonid Ivlev, will lead a new initiative to monitor and train local poll workers. “These are municipal elections, paid for by municipal governments and conducted by municipal officials, but now we think it makes sense to tighten control over them,” Churov said, RIA-Novosti reported.
The measures drew a lukewarm response from Lilia Shibanova, also of Golos, who told The Moscow Times that electronic counting machines were only as honest as the software they run on, and that vote-counting rules were already simple enough. “Poll workers don’t break the rules because they’re complex; they break them because the rules get in the way of vote-rigging,” she said. She criticized the idea of Ivlev monitoring local elections. “Ivlev traveled to Astrakhan — where there were outrageous falsifications, and people were getting beaten up — and said everything was ‘super.’ I’d prefer that experts like him stayed at home,” she said.