Army of volunteer monitors is mobilised to help make vote-rigging a thing of the past


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The Independent Online

The calls came every few seconds yesterday to the headquarters of Citizen Monitor, where dozens of telephone operators sat in booths hired from a call centre for the weekend. The operators were all volunteers, as were the 4,000 or so monitors that the organisation had posted around Moscow to watch over the vote at various polling stations.

Citizen Monitor drew its minimal funding from donations received online, and also had a series of mobile teams. Whenever a call came in that there was a suspicion of foul play, a team of lawyers and activists was dispatched to the polling station in question.

The growth in the number of monitors is one sign of the civil society movement that has grown up in Russia in recent months. There were a reported 82,000 observers in Moscow alone, with more than 300,000 across Russia. Some of them were linked to the various candidates, including Vladimir Putin himself, but many were simply young people who wanted to feel as if they had a part in the political process.

The Citizen Monitor movement was just one of several observer organisations using Twitter and other social networks to spread information about alleged ballot violations during the day. It created a sense of illegitimacy about the polls that the opposition hopes will boost the numbers at protests planned for coming days.

About 4,000 monitors were trained in the run-up to the vote, and had to sit through a four-hour lecture about their responsibilities and tasks. Most were professionals in their 30s, according to Matvei Petukhov, one of the activists running the call centre.

"We have seen fewer violations at the actual polling stations because they know there are more observers. Instead, there has been a phenomenal number of 'carousels'," he said, referring to a classic Russian election trick in which a group of activists is ferried around different polling stations to vote several times. Becoming a monitor has become so fashionable that even Ksenia Sobchak, a newly-politicised socialite spent the day as an observer. In the afternoon, she told a press conference of violations she had seen.

Anna, a lawyer answering calls for Citizen Monitor, said: "I felt it was really important that there is strict control over these elections; that we try to ensure they are fair."