Voters Can Drop In for Groceries or Haircuts

Millions of people across the country are expected to cast their ballots at polling stations Sunday to decide the makeup of the next State Duma.

But for many who intend to vote, the urge for an intimate medical checkup or to look like a punk might be as important a motivating factor as civic duty.

City administrations and election officials are outfitting polling stations with various attractions to bring out the vote, including cheap food, coupon books, hair stylists and doctors.

Voters in Omsk will be able to visit a gynecologist or urologist at polling stations, while Kemerovo voters can get haircuts in the style of punks or prisoners, the Trud newspaper reported Wednesday.

"That's crazy!" a Kemerovo election official said by telephone when told of the haircut opportunities in her region. The official, who gave only her first name, Nina, said she had not heard of the haircuts.

"We are offering free food samples" at polling stations, Nina said.

Celebrating election day as a holiday was a Soviet tradition that included selling highly desired food items -- typically salami, cheese and red caviar -- at cut-rate prices. Post-Soviet polling stations have updated this tradition by adding numerous -- and often bewildering -- services and attractions, from a lottery where everyone wins a prize, to singing karaoke or toy-making workshops.

There will be early winter festivities in Norilsk, where a snow city will be opened and New Year's lights will be switched on, the Norilskiye Novosti web site reported Thursday. City officials will also be on hand for consultations with voters, who will have the chance try the school lunches their children eat, the web site said.

Voters in the republic of Bashkortostan will receive coupon booklets good in local shops, the Prime-Tass news agency reported, while each voter in Novgorod will receive a prize -- with one lucky voter winning a new car, the web site NovgorodInform.ru reported. Public transportation users will be able to ride for free in several regions Sunday.

Officially, around $8 million has been spent on attractions aimed at getting voters to polling stations, though experts believe the figure is actually much higher, Prime-Tass reported.

Voters lucky enough to cast ballots in the Kemerovo region will have the chance to learn how to make cuddly toys at polling stations -- mainly bears, Trud reported. And if election fever becomes too much to take, Volga region polling stations will have psychologists available for consultations, Trud said.