A few days before Russia’s presidential election, Sergei Smirnov received a phone call from a man who called himself Mikhail and told him the terms of the deal: you will vote for Vladimir Putin four times and receive 2,000 roubles ($70) in return. The sum was promised to dozens of other young men and women who met on Sunday outside a popular fast food joint on the southwest fringe of Moscow, waiting to be taken to various polling stations in the province that rings the capital. Smirnov, a journalist, said he found the group a few weeks prior to the election through a friend. Mikhail, whom he met at Moscow’s Yugo-Zapadnaya (Southwest) metro station on Sunday morning, gave him final instructions. “He said we should vote for Vladimir Putin, photograph the ballot, and send him the photograph by phone,” Smirnov said.
Smirnov is one of several activists who infiltrated and followed a group of what he said were “carousel” voters, as Russians call people who cast several ballots at different polling stations using documents reserved for absentee voters. It is a practice critics say has been used to pad results for Kremlin candidates in elections since Putin came to power in 2000, including a Dec. 4 parliamentary vote in which suspicions of fraud prompted the biggest protests of his 12-year rule.
Opposition politicians said Sunday’s election, in which Putin won a six-year term with nearly 60 percent of the vote – enough to avoid a runoff he would have faced if he fell short of 50 percent – was no exception. “Nobody expected these carousels … it is complete impudence,” said Alexei Navalny, a popular protest leader who is among those planning new demonstrations starting on Monday in Moscow and other cities. Navalny, who sent observers to polling stations, said he had been receiving reports of potential violations all day.
Stung by allegations of fraud in the parliamentary vote, Putin ordered thousands of web cameras installed in polling places nationwide for Sunday’s election, and in a victory speech he said he had won “in an open and honest struggle”. But critics said the group Smirnov joined was just one of many instances of suspected fraud. Golos, an independent vote monitoring group, received more than 3,500 reports of potential violations nationwide.
Full Article: Russia Elections: Voting Fraud Allegations Mar Putin’s Win.