Red Square Residents Vote With Homeless

MTPeople waiting in line to get into Polling Station No. 156 to vote on Sunday.
The residents of No. 1 Red Square marched to their local polling station early Sunday morning, stamping their feet in the cold as they waited to vote.

The soldiers from the Kremlin Regiment were one of the more organized constituencies at Polling Station No. 156 on Gazetny Pereulok, which saw angry scenes as dozens of voters were prevented from casting their ballots in the State Duma elections.

The polling station, which covers the Kremlin and part of Tverskaya Ulitsa, was the designated station for homeless people wishing to vote. But there was little sign of homeless voters Sunday. Instead, there was a steady procession of eager voters who found themselves unable to vote.

Dozens of people came to the polling station after hearing television and radio spots that people registered outside Moscow could vote there.

"All of Moscow is coming here," a policeman manning the entrance said. "They said on the radio that if you haven't got registration to come here."

Inside, angry would-be voters surrounded a table of election officials after learning that they would not be voting there.

When an election official told Olesya Sokolova, 25, that she could not vote, Sokolova pulled out her cell phone and began filming the official, holding the phone inches from her face, guiding it down to her name tag and back to her face, all the while providing running commentary about how her right to vote was being violated.

"If I were a bum, I could vote," Sokolova said, adding that she would have voted for United Russia.

Another voter chimed in with a novel form of electoral fraud. "Let's just write that we are bums," he said.

As the day wore on, lines up to 10 meters long formed as word continued to spread - inaccurately - that nonresidents could vote there. Vasily Shlakhov, 34, had come from Yasenevo on the city outskirts. Officials there told him to go to Polling Station No. 156. Originally from Murmansk, Shlakhov said he had inquired two months ahead of time whether he could vote and was told that he could.

According to election rules, voters registered outside Moscow could vote at the station if they had applied three days before the election.

"I wanted to vote against United Russia," Shlakhov said. Officials at the polling station told him to go back to Yasenevo and try again.

Sergei Pudovkin, a Sverdlovsk region candidate on the Communist Duma ticket, was also unable to vote. His local election commission told him that it had run out of absentee ballots but that he would be able to vote in Moscow. A polling station in Strogino sent him to No. 156, where he was turned away.

Sergei Perestroikin, 57, who said he changed his last name in honor of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, wandered around the station complaining to as many people as possible about losing his vote on a technicality.

Central Elections Commission member Stanislav Vavilov said the commission had received no complaints about the polling station.

Ksenia Bogomolova, 95, was also having difficulties voting. A former "propaganda" official for Soviet elections, Bogomolova said she had been picked up by an election official and brought to the station, only to find out that it was the wrong one. As she waited for someone to give her a lift back, she was becoming increasingly irritable.

"This is shameful," Bogomolova said.

Bogomolova said she supported President Vladimir Putin. But when asked by a Communist election observer whether she meant United Russia, whose ticket Putin led in the election, she appeared oblivious to the party of power.

"Who are they? she said.

Meanwhile, the only homeless person anywhere near the station between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. was Vasily, 45, who sat mournfully outside on a heating vent, where he had slept the night before.

Despite his proximity to the station, Vasily said he wasn't voting for a number of reasons.

"What difference will it make," said Vasily, a Kolyma native who has lived on the streets for 15 years.

Another important factor, he said, is the fact that he cannot move his legs because he suffers from frostbite.

If he did vote though, Vasily said, he would vote for Putin. Things have improved for the homeless under the president, he said.

Staff Writer Natalya Krainova contributed to this report.