Russian election chiefs to investigate Reuters findings of irregularities

September 22, 2016 11:04 AM EDT

An election commission member sits with her eyes closed at a polling station in the village of Knyazevo in the Republic of Bashkortostan, Russia, September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Svetlana Burmistrova


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By Maria Tsvetkova and Alexander Winning

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's national election authority said it would look into evidence found by Reuters of inflated turnout figures and people voting more than once at three polling stations in two regions during a parliamentary election at the weekend.

The election saw Vladimir Putin cement his supremacy over Russia's political system when his allies in the ruling United Russia party took three-quarters of the seats in parliament, paving the way for him to run for a fourth term as president.

Reuters reporters counted voters at a random sample of 11 polling stations across central and western Russia on polling day. They found that the official figures for turnout were much higher than their count at three of them - located in the central regions of Mordovia and Bashkortostan.

At one location, polling station number 284 in Bashkortostan's regional capital Ufa, election officials recorded more than twice as many voters as were counted by Reuters - 1,689 against 799.

Officials at the three polling stations denied there were violations. It is unlikely that any irregularities in those places - a narrow snapshot of what was happening across Russia's 11 time zones and thousands of polling stations - would have been on a scale that could have affected the election result. Reuters was unable to assess if such practices were widespread.

Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia's Central Election Commission, said at a sitting of the commission late on Wednesday that it would check the evidence presented by Reuters against video footage recorded at polling station 284.

"We'll check then if this count was correct," she told Haidar Valeyev, the head of the election commission in Bashkortostan, via video-link at the sitting, a scheduled meeting to discuss complaints which was open to the media.

"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. We left cameras intentionally to record this process."

MORDOVIA

Pamfilova had previously told news briefings that the vote had been more transparent than the previous parliamentary election, citing the use of live webcams in some polling stations.

She told the meeting on Wednesday it was possible that people could have voted more than once at the two polling stations in Mordovia where Reuters found evidence of inflated turnout figures.

"I think this could have happened. It happens sometimes. This is considered to be a violation," she said.

Valeyev, the Bashkortostan election commission head, denied any wrongdoing by local election officials in his region.

The commission also said it would investigate Reuters' findings of count discrepancies at the two other polling stations, in Mordovia. It was unclear if those polling stations had webcams on polling day.

After the last election in 2011, which was also won comfortably by the pro-Putin United Russia party, allegations from opposition activists of widespread electoral fraud prompted large protests in the capital Moscow.

In all three polling stations in question, the ruling United Russia party was the overwhelming winner in the official count.

Russian opposition parties say they are collecting evidence on voting violations and may seek to cancel election results in some regions. Opposition parties rarely succeed in obtaining a cancellation of results from any voting districts.

(Editing by Pravin Char)



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