The Phantom of the Polling Stations

16 March 2012

By Masha Karp 

It seemed that after the December parliamentary elections Russian voters and observers were familiar with all kinds of fraud: ballot-box stuffing, “carousels” (when buses took people around from one polling station to another, voting in each one), re-writing of voter counts etc., etc. But the presidential elections of 4th March introduced a new, completely new and original invention, evidence for which is now filling the Russian Internet –“phantom polling stations”.

Observers following elections in Nizhny Novgorod were rather puzzled to see listed on the Electoral Commission website for the region 16 polling stations, in all of which one of the candidates (guess, who?) consistently had from 85% to 96% of the vote. This was all the more bizarre given that the general result of this candidate – V.V. Putin - in Nizhny Novgorod was about 50% (some Precinct Electoral Commissions reported slightly less than 50%, others slightly more). It soon became obvious that just before the elections in the very last days of February the Electoral Commission of Nizhny Novgorod region had decided to create a number of additional places for voting.

Indeed, if about a dozen people are out on a boat on election day, there should be provision for them to vote, and a temporary polling station is then organized. In Nizhny Novgorod for such purposes there were about 8 newly created polling stations. However, the 16 polling stations with the remarkable results for one of the candidates were not of this kind: they included factories, markets, a bus station, and - best of all – a cemetery! So the dead souls were voting at the phantom polling station, nearly unanimously choosing the same candidate for President of Russia!

There is a video clip on the net, which shows one dedicated observer who went to a Nizhny Novgorod bus station asking people who had had to work on the previous Sunday whether they had seen a polling station there. None of them said they had seen anything of that kind, and after finishing work they had all gone home to vote at their place of residence.

With webcams installed in many polling stations in March in order to try to prevent fraud, the authorities thought of something which webcams would not be able to stop. The brilliant idea however occurred to them too late - according to the law, new polling stations should be created not later than 23 days before the elections. Only in exceptional cases does the law allow the creation of new polling stations not later than 3 days before the elections. There must have been 16 such exceptional cases in Nizhny Novgorod, which gave Putin an extra 20% of votes in the city.

The lack of time must have also prevented this wonderful practice spreading to other cities. The only other city so far where the appearance of “phantoms” has been noticed on a big scale is St. Petersburg. There were 46 phantom stations there. They registered a turn-out of 70%, and although “phantom supporters” of Vladimir Putin gave him a score of about 90% there, on the whole their role in Petersburg was slightly less significant: Putin received only 7-9% additional votes thanks to these phantom polling stations.

The list of locations in Petersburg was even more diverse than in Nizhny Novgorod: many factories, to which no one could have had access, many hospitals (at least one of them a psychiatric hospital), markets, residential housing service agencies, and again a cemetery.

Altogether, since the last presidential elections the number of voters in Russia has increased dramatically - there are 2,6m extra voters. And this is in Russia where there is a rather depressing demographic situation. Moreover, precisely on elections day the number of voters suddenly increased by 1,2m people.

Obviously, the phantom polling stations played a role here. But heads of Precinct Electoral Commissions at real polling stations had to be constantly mindful of the danger not to have more than 100% votes in their particular stations. That is why many bloggers reported finding AVCs (Absentee Voting Certificates) in bins near polling stations –evidence of crime that had to be destroyed.