Sunday is Election Day in Russia, and the Golos call-in center is a beehive of activity. Volunteers at this election monitoring organization are taking calls from voters reporting on irregularities. Lawyers are on hand. There is a group of analysts hunched over laptops in a small secluded room, crunching numbers to see if there are any suspicious trends as information starts trickling in.
For Golos, it has been a game of cat and mouse.
Its workers are periodically evicted or say landlords are pressured at the last moment to not honor agreements to let the organization move in. So, they had to hedge themselves and hold a few spaces in reserve for the big day, election day, moving into their office on Saturday night to avoid having much chance to get kicked out.
But they say they do think they are getting some protection from the head of the Central Electoral Commission, which is important.
Golos representatives say the biggest issue with this election is not bold-faced ballot stuffing, but the fact that voters have been under huge pressure to vote.
It has been drummed into their heads, according to Golos, that their nation is under siege and it is a patriotic duty to vote. They reportedly face pressure from teachers and employers. And, they don’t necessarily understand what the consequences of not voting might be. They just get that they need to tick a box. And there are reports of groups being bussed to polling stations.
Golos’ Roman Udot said the other problem is the now-repeated scenario of not having real choice in Russian elections. He criticized President Vladimir Putin for not even taking part in the campaign.
“He’s actually a coward. He was not taking part in those debates, even those castrated, Russian-style debates. It was not interesting. He was just doing a militaristic bombast thing.”
Dozhd TV commentator Mikhail Fishman told Fox News, “The only real issue Putin cares about is power. This issue is solved. There is no menace, no threat, to his authority from anywhere.”
People in fact have been talking this week about the militarization of the political debate here. Some say it is about Russia craving respect.
In that regard, there are a lot of Russians who feel offended that the United Kingdom instantly accused their government of the attempted assassination of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who remain in a coma. Those Russian voters may feel that Putin is the only one to stand up for them.
Candidate Ksenia Sobchak sounded a warning about that on Sunday. She said though Putin would win re-election, she worried a particularly strong mandate for him would only make his policies harder.
“You see what is happening between us and Britain. We don’t have any improvements, everything is only getting worse. And this will continue, because this is our foreign policy: very aggressive and very unpleasant.”
At the time of writing, preliminary results have come out and Putin appears to have taken 75 percent of votes. That is more than his team even hoped for.
Putin addressed the poisoning of the Skripals for the first time Sunday night, saying, when asked, “In regards to the tragedy you mention, I found out about it through the media and the first thing that comes to mind is that if this was a military-grade poisonous substance, then of course, people would have died there and then. This is obvious and people need to understand this.”