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Forced photos and vodka shots: Russia’s regions pull out the stops to guarantee turnout at presidential election

On the evening of March 16, Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) reported on voter turnout in the ongoing presidential election, claiming that more than 50% of the country's voters had already cast their ballots. In February, the CEC put the number of eligible voters in Russia at 112.3 million — a statistic that includes the occupied territories of Ukraine. If the agency's figures are to be believed, more than 66 million people had participated by the evening of the second day of voting. The vote will run from March 15 to March 17.

Government agencies across the country have resorted to various tricks and manipulations to guarantee a turnout. Public sector employees and students have been forced to vote. In particular, on their way out of the polling stations, employees of budget institutions and state enterprises are being forced to have their pictures taken with a certificate from the local governor, according to a report by the independent publication Agentstvo (lit, “The Agency”) citing one of its readers that sent in a photo of the document. According to the source, the certificates are issued to all those who voted when leaving the polling stations. Another resident of the Kursk Region confirmed to Agentstvo that these certificates are in fact being given out.

A certificate from Kursk Region governor Roman Starovoit reading 'Thank you for your conscious and responsible choice of a worthy future for our Motherland! Victory and the Future are on Russia's side!'
A certificate from Kursk Region governor Roman Starovoit reading 'Thank you for your conscious and responsible choice of a worthy future for our Motherland! Victory and the Future are on Russia's side!'

In Ufa, employees of nursery schools have been obliged to attend, according to readers of the Telegram channel NeMoskva (lit. “Not Moscow”). They have to report on their presence at the polling stations twice a day by posting on social networks using the “correct” hashtags.

Voters were also lured in with various “gifts” and events: in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug, a newborn baby with the name Vladimir-Putin was brought to the elections. Tyumen residents had their photos taken with a cardboard cutout of ex-Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, who recently traveled to Moscow for a widely-publicised interview with the Russian president.

Residents of Chelyabinsk were able to get a gynecological examination at the polling stations. Voters in an Omsk precinct sang along with popular artist Stas Mikhaylov, who came to perform on election day. According to reports from local media, he will be paid 24 million roubles (nearly $260,000) for the performance. It was not possible to confirm this information, as the publication that first ran the story did not indicate where it obtained the figure.

State and military personnel are being driven to polling stations and forced to take pictures “for the reports,” an observer at a polling station in Primorsky Krai told the media outlet SOTAvision. The same reports come from Ufa, where observers say that every second person arriving at a local polling station was photographed next to the ballot box to report to their superiors. In some cases, the head of the precinct election commission took pictures of voters personally. Students from the Ufa Automobile Transport College were forced to vote without an ID or a certificate from their polling station. They were told “you know who to vote for” when they were handed their ballot.

In the Kemerovo Region, those who come to vote are given a shot of vodka before they cast their ballot, according to a report by the Telegram channel Dissident. Another report by local media outlet NGS42 cited the director of a school hosting a polling station in the town of Prokopyevsk as saying: “Yes, [the vodka's] in the school lobby, but there are no lessons now. We have good vodka, people try it, chase it down with a bite of pie and go to vote.”

In Perm, employees of a psychiatric hospital were forced to take part in the elections, report on voting and send in pictures of their ballots, according to a report by the Telegram channel Ostorozhno, Novosti! (lit. “Beware, News!”). Employees of the regional clinical psychiatric hospital faced a similar situation. On March 15, one of the hospital's employees demanded that her subordinates participate in the election and report their vote by sending screenshots of the online voting or photos of the paper ballot, as well as signing a special sheet. Some medics ignored her demands, resulting in reprimands and promises that “it would be worse” if they tried to “get out of it.” All voting reports are sent to chief physician Olga Rogozhnikova — a former deputy in the Perm Krai’s regional parliament.

Even the dead are ensuring voter turnout: accounts belonging to dead people on the social network VK have suddenly become active, posting messages calling on others to attend the election.

Anastasia Kimeklis, a resident of St. Petersburg, noticed that the page of her brother Pavel, who died 14 years ago, was active again on VK: there were several posts about going to the polls, each with photos of different people. One of the photos was taken at polling station 195 in Khabarovsk, although Pavel was from St. Petersburg.

Pavel's page was blocked after complaints from users. His relatives told journalists that the man died on July 23, 2010, more than 10 years ago — he had a stroke while swimming in Lake Ladoga. According to Pavel's relatives, none of the people in the photos from the post are related to the deceased.

Examples from Pavel Kimeklis' hacked page are below. The first post reads “Pavel Kimeklis” followed by the man’s date of birth (15.01.1976) and death (23.07.2010) while the second says the following:

“After the voting process was over, our #wholefamily discussed our election at length and expressed respect for each other's opinions! We went to the polling station with our families together and voted for Vladimir Putin together! Our family determines the political future of our country. And all Russian families do too!”

Mikhail Komin, a political scientist and visiting researcher at the European Council on Foreign Affairs (ECFR), believes that the Kremlin intends to bring the national turnout figures to around 80% to match the latest “poll” carried out by the Kremlin-controlled pollster VTsIOM. According to the “poll,” 70% of respondents said they would definitely participate in the presidential election. The Kremlin's task, conveyed to regions nationwide through VTsIOM, was quickly circulated by government-owned national media.

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