It started at two in the morning when my cell phone buzzed on the nightstand, telling me the taxi was waiting outside.
The office was empty and half dark when I got there. Even the coffee machines were turned off. I woke up all the computers and TV sets and printers, and turned the channel to Russia 24 to watch the sun rise on Vladivostok and the voters come in out of the cold from (I’m not kidding you!) reindeer sleds and Russian navy ships – stamping the snow off their boots and rubbing the fog out of their glasses.
Russia held parliamentary elections today – 140 million people across nine time zones. It was a bit like a party at work (a really stressful party where you sometimes get yelled at by your boss), and the whole crew was in with cameras and tripods and someone ordered pizza.
By the time the sky was light in Moscow (10AM local time), the results were already starting to roll in. On a normal busy day we turn out about 5-8 TV stories from the Moscow bureau. Today we turned upwards of 25.
The election fraud started early and piled up as the day went on:
- Last week economist husband’s dad had to make a visit to the hospital. In addition to examining him and running a few medical tests the doctor asked if he was planning to vote, and if he’d brought his passport with him. When my father-in-law answered yes to both questions the doctor suggested he give over his blank ballot to the hospital staff so they could fill it out for him!
- Early this morning at the polling station our TV crew went to film at in Moscow the cameramen noticed a strange phenomenon – there was a line-up outside the door of about forty people, all dressed in the same company uniforms, with permission ballots that allow you to vote in a place you’re not registered – a common tactic used to cheat and vote multiple times in multiple places…
- The Russian internet was soon flooded with amateur video of journalists sneaking camera’s into polling stations to film people pulling dozens of extra ballots from under their shirts while hiding behind the curtain in a voting booth and then dropping them into the ballot box to earn a reward of 1000 rubles.
- Advice from a dinner party we went to two days before the voting started on how to make sure your vote for anyone other than Russia’s ruling party would count: come late (so they can’t throw out your ballot before the counting starts), bring your own pen, and make a scene in front of international observers if you suspect anything fishy….
Can you imagine living in a country where you’re not sure you’ll be able to trust your doctor unless you give him your vote? Or you’re not sure you’ll be able to keep your job unless you help your employer cheat in elections? Or you have to count on election observers from another country to make sure that your own fellow citizens don’t cheat you out of your vote?
A few stories:
- (For Russian speakers) “Наш дурдом голосует за Путина” – United Russia got just under 50% of the vote nationwide, according to the Central Election Commission. Why did every single patient in this mental hospital vote for Putin?
- (For Russian speakers) How to make your vote count in Russia – more advice from a blogger
- (For English speakers) If the Russian blog link doesn’t work it’s probably because livejournal is still under attack. Sadly, many social media and internet platforms used by the Russian opposition have been ‘under attack’ since the election. You don’t have to make laws banning certain internet portals in Russia, you just have to hack into them.
- (For English speakers) A good summary of the elections from Reuters can be found here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/05/us-russia-election-idUSTRE7B019B20111205