FILE PHOTO: Sergei Lyutikov, who said he was a United Russia election observer, stands near a ballot box at a polling station during a regional election in Vladikavkaz
By Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The woman who was in charge of a Russian polling station where Reuters reported voting irregularities in a regional election has been stripped of her role, the Central Election Commission said.
Yelena Khadonova ran polling station No. 333 in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz, where the official tally of votes cast in the Sept. 10 election was much higher than the number of voters counted by Reuters reporters who were present.
The reporters, who spent the day at the polling station, also saw an aide to a local ruling party lawmaker repeatedly inserting voting papers into a ballot box.
Khadonova was one of 24 election officials in the region that includes Vladikavkaz who have been stripped of their election roles, the commission said.
In a letter sent to Reuters, it said the election officials were fired for shortcomings uncovered in their work, but did not say what those shortcomings were.
No one involved in running the vote had confirmed to the commission that the ballot irregularities reported by Reuters had taken place, it said.
But, contacted on Thursday by a Reuters reporter, Khadonova said: "It's your fault I was fired from being in charge of that polling station."
She said she had performed her duties correctly and that no official complaint about irregularities had been filed.
Asked if she would ever work as an election official again, Khadonova, whose main job is as a municipal official in Vladikavkaz, said: "No, I don't think so. I've had enough."
VOTING FOR THE "TSAR"
At polling station No. 333, Reuters reporters counted 256 voters casting their ballots in person on Sept. 10. When the official results were tallied, the number of people who showed up to vote was given as 1,867.
Election officials at the polling station said their tally was correct and there that were no discrepancies.
At the same polling station, Reuters reporters saw one man, Sergei Lyutikov, approaching the ballot box multiple times and each time put voting papers inside. At the time he was an aide to a deputy in the outgoing regional parliament with Russia's governing United Russia party.
When asked what he was doing, Lyutikov, in an apparent reference to Putin, said: "We must ensure 85 percent for United Russia. Otherwise, the Tsar will stop providing us with money."
Election officials who were present said they had not seen Lyutikov at the ballot box.
Russia will vote next March in a presidential election. President Vladimir Putin has not said whether he will seek a new term but opinion polls show he is the favourite to win.
In the letter to Reuters, the Central Election Commission said officials involved in running the vote in Vladikavkaz, and police officers present at polling station No. 333, had been questioned in response to the Reuters report.
"These people did not confirm the information set out by you," the commission said in its letter. It said no one had filed any law suits to challenge the results of the voting, and no local election commission members had challenged the results.
But the commission acknowledged a shortcoming in the work of election officials at another Vladikavkaz polling station, No. 337, where a Reuters reporter was denied entry for several minutes at the start of voting.
Asked to clarify why the 24 election officials had been removed from their roles, a commission spokeswoman, Yulia Felonina, said she had no immediate comment.
The commission said in its letter that it had also looked at evidence of irregularities gathered by Reuters reporters at polling stations in the Belgorod and Ryazan regions. In those cases, there had been no complaints submitted by voters, observers or local election commission members, it said.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Christian Lowe, Editing by Timothy Heritage)