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Poll Watchers Hope to Cut Fraud in Russia Vote

James Brooke

Three months after widespread charges of fraud in Russia's parliamentary elections, Russians are to vote Sunday for president.  Anger over the December elections is being channeled into a massive grassroots movement of citizen election monitors.

Row upon row of Russians take lecture notes in a university classroom on a Saturday afternoon.  They are not poor students.  

They are just 50 faces from an army of 200,000 Russians volunteering to work as poll watchers, trying to fight fraud when Russians vote Sunday for president.

One volunteer, Anna Bugrova, says reports from friends and family about fraud in the December parliamentary elections made her angry.

Burgova says she read about fraud on the Internet and realized it was widespread.  As a result, she volunteered as a poll watcher.

Her instructor is Matvey Petukhov, of the Citizen Observer monitoring group.  He teaches volunteers how to spot ballot stuffing and multiple voting, but he also trains them in dealing with the police and filing legal complaints with prosecutors.

Petukhov predicts the expected surge in watchers at voting stations will prompt fraudsters to concentrate on absentee ballots and home voting.  He estimates volunteer observers will monitor voting at all polling stations in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Russia's other big cities.

At Carnegie Moscow Center, analyst Masha Lipman cautions the poll watching movement may not extend beyond big cities.

"The effort to observe the election will hardly be nationwide," said Lipman.  "In Moscow it will make a difference.  However the regions are different and provinces are very different from big urban centers."

To lighten up the four-hour training classes, an ad agency produced an observer training video for free.

After the cries of fraud in the December elections, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a $500,000r program to install two web cameras at each of Russia's nearly 100,000 polling stations.
But this move did not convince information technology expert Vyacheslav Filippov, who decided to become a poll watcher.  Filippov says a lot of vote stealing can take place off camera and that the public will not have guaranteed access to the videos.

A 23-year-old psychologist, Ekaterina Korovkina, says she is prepared to stay at her polling place for 20 hours on Sunday, watching for fraud.  Korovkina says that she has the support of friends, family and her students and that she is prepared to stand and fight if she detects fraud.

Korovkina may have to fight.  After Russia's December parliamentary vote, voting experts studied the results for The Wall Street Journal. They concluded that fraud clouded 21 percent of the total, or 14 million votes.

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