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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Officials Fill Out Ballots Themselves

GROZNY -- While senior election officials in Chechnya reported high voter turnout in the presidential elections, some lower-ranking officials openly admitted stuffing ballot boxes.

As of 6 p.m. on Sunday, 83 percent of Chechnya's registered voters, or 498,000 people, had cast their ballots, Interfax reported, quoting Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, Chechnya's elections committee chairman.

However, Ziyavdi Chagayev, deputy head of Polling Station No. 403 in Grozny, said local election officials at the station had stuffed 1,986 ballots on orders from higher-ranking election officials. Those officials also dictated the proportion of votes to be given presidential candidates, Chagayev said.

Putin led with 1,788 votes, while "against all" came in second with 120 ballots, Chagayev said. Communist Nikolai Kharitonov and pro-Kremlin candidate Sergei Mironov received 58 votes and 20 votes, respectively.

"As early as Saturday, members of our commission filled out the ballots in accordance with the instructions. On Sunday we only had to stuff them into the boxes," Chagayev said. "At our polling station, we stuffed these ballots into the boxes right after we opened."

Of the 2,260 ballots initially supplied to his station, only 274 remained blank, he said. "From the experience of previous elections, not more than 200 people vote at our station," Chagayev said, adding that other polling stations in Chechnya had done similarly.

Luisa Mutsalayeva, secretary of Polling Station No. 368, described a slightly different stuffing technique.

"When there were no voters at the station, someone from the commission took several ballots and openly stuffed them into the box. It went on throughout the day," she said.

She said observers from the Grozny administration and political parties turned a blind eye to the violations.

But the city's representative, Inalbek Vedzizhev, who also visited other polling stations in the same district, said he spotted no wrongdoing: "People are voting actively. They are choosing a new life."

In another effort to increase turnout, free transportation to polling stations was offered to employees of state-funded organizations.

"A bus was arranged for us in the morning so we could go to vote," said Maret Yakhyayeva, an employee of the housing maintenance department. "It wasn't compulsory and we didn't have to go, but many went anyway."

A large number of residents polled Sunday said they did not vote because the outcome was predetermined and the fairness of the process in doubt.

"Personally, I'm against Putin. He was one of the initiators of the war in Chechnya," said Aslan Asuyev, manager of a Grozny beauty parlor. "But even if I go and vote, say, for none of the above, my vote may just be left out."

The elections "may be relatively free but they aren't fair, that's for sure," said political analyst Edilbek Khasmagomadov.

The artificially high turnout is politically motivated, he said, because "Chechnya has to show a return to the Russian political space. That's the only thing these elections are about."

 Two bombs exploded near polling stations in the village of Sernovodskaya, Chechnya, on Sunday morning, Reuters reported citing RIA-Novosti. There were no casualties but voting was briefly disrupted, an election official said.