"Before they threw me out at 9:45 p.m., I saw [precinct] commission members quietly taking piles of ballots for Yavlinsky and other candidates from the counting tables to another room," Tarasova said by telephone from Mendeleyevsk, Naberezhniye Chelny.
"Then they brought back equally sized piles of ballots, which they put in Putin's pile," she said.
Tarasova said she believed the new ballots had been signed in advance by the commission itself.
"They went out [for new ballots] two times after the counting had started before they pushed me out.
"During the day they called my boss twice, and he came and threatened to sack me from my job if I spoke out. So I just watched what they were doing and had to keep my mouth shut."
But when Tarasova was expelled from the premises of the No. 1966 precinct, she and Liliya Krasilnikova, a territorial commission member, filled out a complaint about what they had witnessed at the precinct.
Yabloko observer Oleg Bashkatov from the neighboring No. 1976 district also signed the complaint. He wrote he was forced out of the precinct by one of his bosses during the counting of ballots.
"When I was leaving, I noticed that there were about 40 ballots in the pile for Yavlinsky," Bashkatov wrote. "But in the final count, there were only 15."
Communist observers, who were present in 80 percent of the Tatar city elections commissions and less than 15 percent of the rural ones, also say they noticed some odd counting games being played.
At the precincts where Communists had observers, Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov got from 30 percent to 40 percent of the votes and Vladimir Putin from 55 percent to 65 percent, according to local Communist Party representatives. For example, at the No. 242 precinct in Kazan, 400 votes were cast for Putin and 242 for Zyuganov while at the No. 1166 precinct in the rural Buinsky district, Putin got 369 votes and Zyuganov 296 votes.
But the difference widened tremendously at the unobserved stations.
Zyuganov got 1.2 percent of votes while Putin walked away with 85.1 percent in the No. 159 district of Kirovsky in Kazan. Likewise, Zyuganov got only 8.6 percent while Putin 84.3 percent in the No. 155 precinct in the same region.
In the more rural areas, the difference grew even more. All but two of the 286 voters at the No. 2729 precinct of the Tetyushi region voted for Putin. All said, 17 precincts in the Tetyushi district reported that Putin had won some 99 percent of their districts' votes.
Surprisingly, some officials close to Tatarstan's central elections commission acknowledge that falsification took place.
"There has been fraud, of course, but some of it may be due to an inefficient mechanism used to count ballots," said Vladimir Shevchuk, head of the Elections-2000 Press Center, which worked with the Tatar elections commission.
Shevchuk said vote counters should have put each candidate's votes in separate piles, but in the rush and confusion they mixed up piles.
"To do it the right way, they would need more than one night," he said. "They were already dead tired, so they just did it in an expedient way."