Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vladivostok Votes For 'None of Above'

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East -- Angry that Mayor Viktor Cherepkov's name was struck from the ballot because of a court ruling that he had financed his campaign with public money, a majority of voters on Sunday cast their ballots for none of the above.

Voters responded with a vengeance to what many saw as a move by Cherepkov's political enemies to exclude him from the ballot. In early results Monday, more than 41 percent of those who claimed about 371,000 ballots at polling stations Sunday refused to turn their ballots back in, apparently in protest that Cherepkov's name was missing, the City Electoral Commission reported.

Of those who voted, another 54 percent voted against all of the candidates on the ballot, apparently in response to a call from Cherepkov to do just that, the commission reported.

The mayoral elections, thrown into disarray last week when the Leninsky District Court and the Regional Electoral Commission disqualified Cherepkov, were further confused because some polling stations didn't get the word that they were supposed to scratch the mayor's name off the ballots.

This means Cherepkov received hundreds of votes, although these numbers weren't tallied. And the distribution of these ballots may disqualify the entire election, said Igor Sukhorukov, a member of the City Electoral Commission.

Of the ballots cast, Vladimir Shakhov f a State Duma deputy and director of an insurance company f ran a distant second to the category of none of the above, with 13.3 percent. Even if the election is found legal, a runoff would have to be held, as a candidate must win more than 50 percent.

A second candidate, Vladimir Murashov, was also disqualified for making anti-Semitic comments after he ranted about "a Jewish conspiracy in Russia" during free radio time allotted to each candidate.

Cherepkov, a veteran of court battles who managed to reverse his 1994 ouster at the hands of the regional prosecutor, was convinced he would win in the end. But he expressed disgust with the poll.

"They've shown once again that the Primorye region is outside the laws of the Russian Federation," Cherepkov said Sunday. "The Constitution doesn't have any effect here in Primorye. Only the mafia runs things here."

Viktor Kondratov, President Boris Yeltsin's representative to the region and an ally of Cherepkov's in his feud with Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko, said Monday he has written a letter asking federal authorities f including the Kremlin, the Prosecutor General and the Central Election Commission f to investigate. "The citizens of Vladivostok reacted properly in this situation and didn't let this election happen," Kondratov said.

Voters leaving the polling station at Borodino Cinema were likewise critical of the vote. "I wouldn't vote for him, but I think they made a mistake [removing him from the ballot]," said Raisa Potapova.

The confusion began Thursday, when the Leninsky District Court sided with candidates Yury Kopylov and Grigory Nikandrov in their lawsuit to disqualify Cherepkov. The court upheld their suit, ruling that the mayor used public money to run his campaign, especially through his newspaper, Primorye.

The City Election Commission agreed that the mayor had ignored warnings to stop electioneering with public money. But members said the transgressions didn't warrant disqualifying the mayor, and joined Cherepkov forces in asking the Primorye Regional Court to reverse the decision.

But before the regional court could act, the Regional Election Commission f a higher body than the City Election Commission f affirmed the Leninsky court decision Sept. 25 and went on to add that Cherepkov's name should be scratched from every ballot, one by one.

Cherepkov responded by again using his newspaper as a rallying point. Primorye printed sample ballots that showed people how to vote against all of the candidates if Cherepkov's name was missing.

This issue of Primorye was distributed Saturday even as Regional Electoral Commission members were debating the use of the paper as a campaign tool, said Alla Shirinina, secretary for the commission.

Another consideration is that under Russian law it is illegal to campaign on election weekend.

Cherepkov's lawyer, Vladimir Kiriyenko, denied any campaign violations and said the mayor's re-election campaign didn't distribute the literature Saturday. Rather, the newspaper was handed out Friday, but people didn't notice it in their mailboxes until Saturday, he said.

f Nonna Chernyakova and Mike Eckel contributed to this report.