They, like tens of thousands of other volunteers, had decided to train as election monitors because of what they believed was widespread fraud and vote-rigging in last December’s parliamentary elections. For them, it matters less that Putin will win than that the vote itself will be free and fair.One volunteer, Masha Eismont, said the polling station she was monitoring had voted 90 percent for United Russia – the party loyal to Putin – in the parliamentary election. Eigmont told me she found that figure incredible, believing Putin’s support was far less in the urban neighborhood. “This isn’t Chechnya,” she said to me, referring to a part of Russia that is a bedrock of Putin support.
As the day wore on, the monitors in Danilovsky and across Moscow seemed on high alert for abuses. They kept watch for “carousels”, buses that carried the same group of people from poll to poll disembarking to vote again and again and again. I saw no instances of this and Eigmont said she had seen one bus arrive, only to leave again once a colleague filmed the driver. Social media websites reported the “carousel” rides were indeed happening inside and outside Moscow as was Golos, the independent election watchdog group.
Even the monitors though, admit their greatest concern is what happens after the polls close. Last December, they visited numerous polling places in several districts, and say they found the final vote tallies changed overnight.
It all contributes to an atmosphere of unease, even as Putin’s supporters are celebrating his return to the presidency. Many are wondering what will happen if those who are angered by what they see as a fraudulent vote gather in protest. Already, the police are gathering, visibly and in big numbers on Moscow’s streets.