How a mysterious change to voting tallies boosted Putin at St Petersburg polling station: a citizen observer reports

Election monitors across Russia reported alleged vote fixing in the
presidential poll. Irina Levinskaya, a St Petersburg historian, gives
her eye-witness account of how she saw it happen.
How a mysterious change to voting tallies boosted Putin at St
Petersburg polling station: a citizen observer reports
19. Vladimir Zhirinovsky: 53 changed to 22; 20. Gennady Zyuganov: 176
changed to 83; 21. Sergei Mironov: unchanged at 56 22. Mikhail
Prokhorov: 226 changed to 32; 23. Putin: 466 changed to 780

By Irina Levinskaya

After Russia’s parliamentary elections in December, it was impossible
for anyone in my country not to know that there had been electoral
fraud on a massive scale. But I am a historian and obsessed with
verifying information for myself.

For that reason I joined the more than 3,000 citizens in St Petersburg
who committed themselves to monitoring last week’s presidential

In training sessions, lawyers explained the kinds of irregularities
that might occur and how to avert – or at least to record – them. They
lectured us on the relevant laws and regulations. They told us how to
prevent ballot stuffing and how to detect “carousel voting”, when
people vote more than once.

“But remember,” they warned on several occasions. “The members of the
electoral commission are not your enemies: think positively about them
and don’t forget the presumption of innocence.”

I was allocated to Polling Station No. 1015 on Moskovsky Avenue in the
south of St Petersburg. It was in a special school for excluded
children and the head of the election commission was a
social-worker-cum-teacher at the school.

Natalya Dmitriyeva was a kindly-looking, smiling woman in her
mid-fifties: the sort of person you’d imagine to be perfect for
rehabilitating our city’s excluded youth.

Such teachers, according to the school’s website, “prevent youth crime
and teach individual responsibility and freedom”.

I arrived at 7.30am on March 4. In all, we were 11 observers from all
walks of life and of all ages, including three young women students.
We stayed at the polling station all day and well into the evening,
when the votes for the five presidential candidates were counted.

At 10.30pm, the final count was made. The results astonished me: Putin
had come first but with only 466 votes – 47.7 per cent of the vote.
Second was the billionare Mikhail Prokhorov with an unexpected 226
votes (23.1 per cent ). Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist
Party, received 176 votes (18 per cent) and came third in this
particular district.

Since most of the voters had been of the Soviet generation, I had
assumed that the old habit of dutifully voting for the leaders
(combined with aggressive pro-Putin television propaganda during the
last few months and coercion in many state institutions) would have
given a clear majority to Putin, with Zyuganov in second place.

Ms Dmitriyeva, the senior official, wrote up the results on the wall
in large figures, as required by law. I took a photograph of the
document. Now, all that remained was for her to make copies for each
of us. This was so that the figures could not be falsified at a higher
level, as had happened during the parliamentary elections.

Our job seemed to be over. We had spent more than 15 hours at Polling
Station 1015. During that time, we had not seen a single irregularity.
We were very pleased with how things had gone. Everything had been
carried out in strict accordance with the law.

By now it was nearing midnight. Ms Dmitriyeva went off to copy the
official documents. And this was when things began to go wrong.
Exhausted after a long and tense day, it didn’t occur to us to go with
her. Our vigilance slipped.

The sweet, smiling, kindly-looking teacher went off and didn’t come
back. We waited and waited. I went to look for her but she had
vanished. Now, I remembered with horror what we’d been warned of by
our lawyers: “Don’t let the head of the commission out of your sight
at the final stage.”

It was some time before another member of the commission appeared (we
never saw Ms Dmitriyeva again) with a sheaf of papers in his hand.
“You wanted copies of the official results? Here they are.”

“Thank goodness!” I thought. I grabbed a copy of the document, checked
that all formalities had been complied with – the official stamp,
signature in the right place and so on – then unfolded it.

I couldn’t believe what I saw: Putin – 780 votes (80.2 per cent);
Zyuganov 83 votes (8.5 per cent); and Prokhorov 32 votes (3.3 per
cent). I was horrified.

I’ll never forget the shock on the faces of the three young students:
someone, though we could not know who, had falsified the ballot.

The member of the commission who had handed us the falsified papers
was still in the building and so we waited at the exit to confront
him. But he appeared to have taken precautions and phoned for support.

Suddenly, a Nissan Pathfinder drew up and three thick-set, young men
with shaven heads leapt out. Pushing us forcefully aside, they
escorted the commission member to the car and drove off.

I wrote down the number-plate and later established it was from a
series used for official cars carrying government employees with the
right to state security.

Next day we learned that the same car, and the same men, had been seen
at other polling stations, either throwing out observers or escorting
election officials.

Of course, this will not be the end of it. Immediately, we went to the
constituency level election commission but its chairman had also

The following day, we filed a complaint and next week we will hand a
witness statement, with all our documentary evidence, to the
prosecutor’s office – along with hundreds of others from the St
Petersburg district.

I am not confident of success, however: I have years of experience,
not only of Putin’s Russia but also of our former Soviet paradise. The
difference between them is growing harder and harder to determine.

Dr Irina Levinskaya is a senior fellow of St Petersburg Institute of
History of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Visiting Fellow at
Cambridge University’s Centre for Advanced Theological Research