Churov Rejects Vote Complaints

The country's top election official dismissed complaints that governors and thousands of other state-paid workers have been told to round up votes for United Russia, and said cell phones would help ensure the fairness of Sunday's State Duma elections.

The Duma vote will be "the most free, most transparent and most suitable for [voters] ... because these are my first elections," said Vladimir Churov, who was appointed head of the Central Elections Commission in late March.

Churov spoke with foreign reporters at a Tuesday night gathering organized by Ketchum, the international public relations agency that has a multimillion-dollar contract with the Kremlin.

Churov denied that governors had been ordered to guarantee a high vote count for United Russia, and he brushed off complaints that regional officials had pressured subordinates and other state-paid workers, such as doctors and teachers, to collect votes for the party.

"Don't believe everything that you read," he said, speaking in English.

A senior regional election official and a Communist Duma deputy said in recent interviews that governors had been ordered to deliver landslide results in their regions for United Russia, whose Duma ticket is headed by President Vladimir Putin.

In addition, teachers, doctors, students and workers in the private sector said in recent interviews that they were facing pressure from superiors to vote for United Russia and to persuade others to support the party as well.

Churov said his efforts to ensure the transparency of the elections include an instant text-message service that will allow voters to check the results of individual polling stations against information compiled by the Central Elections Commission. He said cell phone users could send an SMS to the number 5503 to obtain a polling station's results.

Churov indicated that the service should ease worries about tampering with protocols -- the documents that record turnout and vote results at polling stations.

The senior regional election official, speaking on condition of anonymity in the recent interview, said protocol figures had been changed by regional election committees in previous elections.

Churov insisted that it would be impossible to change figures Sunday. He also said the Central Elections Commission's central voting system was tamperproof.

Final election results will be released around Dec. 11, he said. The first results are expected at midnight Sunday.