Pushechnikov was so aghast at what he found that he wrote to the regional prosecutor asking the latter to launch a formal criminal investigation. When Alexander Veshnyakov, chairman of the CEC, heard about the alleged violations in the region of Kaliningrad, he felt compelled to initiate an audit with the participation of CEC officials.
In his appeals to both the prosecutor and Veshnyakov, Pushechnikov claimed that "gross violations" occurred at 124 out of 586 polling stations in the region (491 on land and 95 at sea), and that these violations, which benefited the election's ultimate victor, were the direct result of the Regional Election Commission's and the local governor's open support for namely that candidate - Vladimir Putin.
For the most part, all violations cited were in one of three areas. First, there were 44 instances of discrepancies between protocols provided by polling stations to territorial election commissions and those given to independent observers who had worked at those polling stations.
Second, Pushechnikov said there is a discrepancy of 42,500 in the number of voting blanks reportedly given to territorial election commissions (23 in the region). One document sets the number at 737,000, while another infers that 695,500 were sent. The difference, he said, has yet to be adequately explained.
And third, an inordinate surplus of voting blanks was distributed to many polling stations. By law, the number of blanks sent to one polling station may only exceed the number of eligible voters registered at that station by 0.5 percent. But according to Pushechnikov, at many of Kaliningrad's polling stations the number of excess ballots fluctuated from 30 to 100 percent of eligible voters. Out of 586 polling stations, there were 223 violations cited by Pushechnikov in this category.
Vasily Zyubanov, chairman of the Kaliningrad regional election commission, said in an interview that he has documents tracking the movement of all voting blanks throughout the region, as well as the fate of all additional blanks sent from territorial commissions to polling stations.
The Regional Election Commission "conducted the presidential elections in full compliance with the law and on a fairly high organization level," said Zyubanov. Regarding Pushechnikov's vituperative letters, Zyubanov said, "The communists are sore that [in Kaliningrad] Putin did better than the national average and Zyuganov worse, and so they decided to raise all this fuss."
In Russia's isolated western region, Putin came away with 60.2 percent of the popular vote - compared with 52.5 percent nationwide - and Zyuganov only 23.5 percent - compared with 29.4 percent across the country.
Nevertheless, claiming electoral fraud on a nationwide scale, Gennady Zyuganov wrote a formal complaint to CEC chairman Veshnyakov detailing falsification of election results in nine specific regions, one of which was Kaliningrad.
Veshnyakov responded to the appeal by sending two officials to Kaliningrad in April as part of a working group that would examine election results and investigate specific complaints filed by the Communists. The group, led by CEC member Olga Volkova, conducted a recount of 14,875 ballots - representing 3 percent coverage - cast at nine polling stations. As a result, among the leading two candidates, Putin lost 13 votes, Zyuganov 3 votes, and 14 ballots were declared invalid.
In addition, the original protocols of 44 polling stations were studied and checked by the working group. In her letter to Veshnyakov, Volkova wrote that "in an overwhelming majority of instances, the methodology of compiling and issuing copies of protocols was violated by polling-station election commissions."
According to Zyubanov, almost all the above violations at the polling-station level were due to human error. Due to the absence of photocopy machines, independent observers and candidates' representatives had to compile their own protocol by hand. Since it was the end of the day and polling-station officials were in a hurry, these protocols often went unchecked. Nevertheless, they were stamped and signed by all polling-station commission members, giving the copies official status.
Pushechnikov also stated in his letters that the regional administration, headed by governor Leonid Gorbenko, committed gross violations during the campaign. One of Gorbenko's deputies became the head of Putin's Kaliningrad campaign headquarters, though, according to Pushechnikov, he officially remained on the regional payroll almost until the end of the campaign. It was only after the Communist party's complaints that the governor's office finally announced that the official was on non-paid leave, a decision that Pushechnikov said was "backdated."
Far worse, however, is Pushechnikov's claim that on Feb. 28 Gorbenko told a group of local administration leaders, mainly from towns and villages, that financial support for the sowing season would depend upon the extent of support for Putin that each locality demonstrated at the ballot box.
"We understand that all our protests and complaints will amount to nothing," said Pushechnikov. "All the administrative resources - the presidential administration, the governors' administrations, the regional election commissions - were utilized to guarantee the victory of the acting president," he said, adding that the judicial and electoral system won't allow the Communists to pursue justice in a fair and speedy manner.
Irina Gertsik, chairman of the League of Women Voters, closely monitored the presidential elections in the Kaliningrad region and had 30 independent observers working that day at various polling-stations. Though she admitted that the electoral process has flaws and members of commissions on all levels need more specialized training, Gertsik said that "there were no major, terrible violations [in the region of Kaliningrad] that could have had an impact on the final results."