Russia election chiefs say reports of vote fraud unproven

October 20, 2016 12:10 PM EDT

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By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's election chiefs said an investigation into irregularities uncovered by Reuters reporters during voting in last month's parliamentary election had found no proof of fraud.

In the Sept. 18 election, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party won three-quarters of the seats in the lower house, more than it had ever held before. The result paved the way for an expected bid by President Vladimir Putin for a fourth term.

Reuters reporters who monitored voting at 11 polling stations observed, among other irregularities, an election official bringing ballot papers into a polling station hidden under a coat, and people voting more than once.

In one location in the Bashkortostan region, Reuters reporters counted 799 people who came and cast a vote, while the official tally was 1,689 votes cast. In that polling station, and in another two where Reuters observed discrepancies in voter numbers, United Russia was the overwhelming winner.

In an 11-page letter mailed to Reuters and signed by the Central Election Commission Secretary Maya Grishina, the election chiefs said that on each of the points raised by Reuters, they had been unable to find confirmation.

The commission did say, though, that it had referred Reuters findings to the police who would establish if there was any evidence of a crime, and that it was conducting further inquiries of its own in Bashkortostan, which is in the Ural mountains region.

Last month, Election Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova ordered that Reuters findings be checked against webcams that, in an innovation designed to counter fraud, had been installed in some polling stations.

"We'll take the camera, what was recorded, from the beginning to the end, and we'll have a full picture of how many people went through the polling station," Pamfilova told regional election chiefs at a meeting last month during a discussion of the Reuters findings.

However, the commission's letter did not cite any video evidence, and was largely based on interviews with the officials who supervised the vote.

BALLOTS UNDER COAT

At polling station No. 424 in the Mordovia region, in central Russia, a Reuters reporter saw local election chief Svetlana Baulina bringing ballot papers into the building concealed under a red raincoat.

The commission's letter concluded: "There are no concrete grounds to accuse her of breaking the law. Baulina ... is the headteacher of a school of long experience. She categorically denies the accusations.

"No one who was present in the given polling station on the day of voting, apart from the correspondent of international news agency Reuters, confirms this fact."

A spokesman for the Commission did not reply to a question as to why the investigation did not use video recordings from polling stations to independently verify what happened.

At polling station 284, in Bashkortostan where Reuters found the biggest discrepancy in voter numbers, the commission said the Reuters count "could not be acknowledged as fair and reliable".

It said election officials at the polling station, and party representatives who were present as observers, had confirmed the official count was correct.

At polling station 591 in Saransk, the capital of Mordovia, a Reuters reporter obtained a temporary registration and cast a vote for a party other than United Russia. However, the official count showed zero votes for that party.

The commission's letter said that two ballots were declared invalid at the polling station. The reporter's vote may have been one of those, but it was impossible to establish for sure because of voter confidentiality.

(Editing by Christian Lowe/Mark Heinrich)



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