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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Voters Air Gripes on Election Hotline

Feeling angry about candidates using dirty tricks to get into the State Duma? Want to know about the front-runner's finances? Or just frustrated by the permanently burned-out light bulb dangling in your apartment entryway?

The Central Election Commission may not have solutions to voter gripes, but they at least have an outlet - a weekday hotline that has already logged some 4,000 calls from a grouchy electorate.

The hotline, launched Sept. 6, is ostensibly meant to register complaints regarding possible election law violations in the weeks running up to the Duma elections Dec. 19.

What it has become, however, is an opportunity for Russian voters to say just about anything that's on their minds.

"We're like sewage-disposal workers, taking it all in and then purifying information so relevant messages can be used," said Nina Tolmachyova, who oversees the hotline office's three operators.

The hotline, which is officially open for business on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., has already registered a wide range of questions, complaints and accusations of election law violations, the most relevant of which are written up in a weekly report and passed on to higher-ups in the commission.

Some of the reports have been intriguing. One anonymous caller told an operator that local administrations in the Moscow region were ordered to secure 50 percent of the vote for the incumbent governor, Anatoly Tyazhlov, in the region's gubernatorial election, also Dec. 19.

Someone else called to say that in Moscow's Orekhovo-Borisova district, people in October were being offered 10 rubles to sign petitions supporting candidate Andrei Nikolayev.

A woman from the Volga region of Bashkortostan called to complain that a policeman had confiscated some 15 pages of signatures she had gathered supporting one of the local candidates. Although nine were eventually returned, she said, the remaining were held on the grounds that "the leadership of Bashkortostan has already decided which candidate will be elected in the district in question, so further signature-gathering makes no sense."

Despite such troubling allegations, however, there is little the hotline staff can do to assure that subsequent investigations are made. According to commission official Sergei Bolshakov, a large part of the telephone complaints are likely to go to waste.

Current legal procedure dictates that only complaints submitted in written form with full names and addresses can be forwarded to the federal bodies responsible for violation investigations.

"This is done so that if a court hearing is required to decide whether a candidate or movement needs to be disqualified or punished, we have a witness to testify," Bolshakov said.

Most of the complaints registered so far by the hotline lack names and addresses, let alone a commitment by the caller to follow up their verbal gripe with a written report.

In the end, Tolmachyova hinted, the hotline is really just a good way to let off steam.

"Especially at the beginning, we were stormed by people telling us about bad roads, heating problems or leaky faucets," said Maria Grigoryeva, one of the hotline operators, adding that the office tries its best to redirect such calls to more appropriate service numbers.

The Central Election Commission hotline can be reached at (095) 206-8416.