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Election violations reported in Russia

by JIM HEINTZ The Associated Press | September 19, 2021 at 4:32 a.m.
Chechen women read their ballots at a polling station Saturday during parliamentary elections in Grozny, Russia. Video online at (AP/Musa Sadulayev)

MOSCOW -- The head of Russia's Communist Party, the country's second-largest political party, is claiming widespread violations in the election for a new national parliament in which his party is widely expected to gain seats.

Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov said Saturday -- the second of three days of voting in the election -- that police and the national elections commission must respond to reports of "a number of absolutely egregious facts" including ballot-stuffing in several regions.

The Golos election-monitoring movement and independent media also reported violations including vote-buying and lax measures for guarding ballots at polling stations.

Central Elections Commission head Ella Pamfilova said later Saturday that more than 6,200 ballots have been annulled in five regions for procedural violations and ballot-stuffing.

The United Russia Party, which is diligently loyal to President Vladimir Putin, appears likely to retain its dominance in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. Still, some projections suggest the party could lose its current two-thirds majority, which is enough to change the constitution. The Communists are expected to pick up the biggest share of any seats lost by United Russia.

Although the Communists generally support Kremlin initiatives in the parliament, their gaining seats would be a loss of face for United Russia. The Communists are seen as potentially benefiting from the "Smart Voting" program promoted by imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his team, which aims to undermine United Russia by advising voters on which candidates are in the strongest position to defeat United Russia's candidates.

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However, it's unclear how effective the program will be after Apple and Google removed Smart Voting apps from their stores under Kremlin pressure. Authorities previously blocked access to its website. Navalny's organizations have been declared extremist, blocking anyone associated with them from running for office.

In St. Petersburg, voter Pavel Ivanov said he had access to the service and followed its advice to vote for a small party that "does not meet my preferences to the full extent but [will] present a certain opposition to the ruling party."

Zyuganov said the party has tallied at least 44 incidents of voting violations, and the Communists have applied for permits to hold protests next week after the voting ends today.

Saturday, the news website Znak said a resident of the Moscow region was offering $15 to people who voted for United Russia. The publication said it called the man, who said the payment would come if the caller provided evidence of their vote through a messaging app.

The Golos movement cited reports from its observers and local news media of an array of apparent violations, including ballots being stored overnight in a cabinet with a broken door and of envelopes for storing ballot tallies appearing to have been opened and then resealed.

Information for this article was contributed by Irina Titova and Yulya Alekseeva.

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