"At 6 a.m. four days before the elections, our office was broken into by the police," said Valentina Lyukzayeva, a secretary of Saransk Communist Party and a deputy in the local legislative assembly.
"One of our men spotted them and called me. When I got there they were searching around and, in a mocking way, said they had gotten a bomb threat," said Lyukzayeva. "Around the same time they broke into the homes of our [political] activists as well. We all told our relatives not to open the door. I was afraid for my daughter. It was an obvious warning telling us to sit still."
Indeed, according to Lyukzayeva, the administration in this region 500 kilometers southeast of Moscow did everything they could to make sure that people voted for Vladimir Putin:
Employees of the housing maintenance services were sent from door to door asking people for whom they were planning to vote. Even after the local Communists reported several complaints to the election commission, the visits didn't stop.
Older residents were threatened that they would not get their pensions if they didn't vote for Putin, Lyukzayeva said, citing one incident in her home village of Permiyevo where the head of the collective farm warned residents that if they voted for Zyuganov - and he would find out if they did - they would not get tractors for planting or cars needed to carry wood or food. "Of course the villagers - most of whom are old women - got frightened and voted for Putin," she said.
To further push the message, many local administrations sent representatives to sit at the polling stations during election day.
"Our observers saw people go to the polling stations to vote several times," said Lyukzayeva. "We filed a lawsuit against Valentin Tarasov, head of the [regional] election commission, to our regional court, but they returned our documents and said we must take the case to a lower court."
But even in the district courts, Lyukzayeva found no satisfaction.
"We filed 14 lawsuits in the district courts," she said. "They only admitted that violations took place, but said they were insignificant and did not affect the results of the [election] that expressed the will of the voters."
But Lyukzayeva says that voters were unfairly pressured into voting for the acting president. The Communists protested about an incident in which employees of the local communications industry were told to vote at their workplace. [Voters are registered to cast their ballots at the polling stations nearest their homes - not their office.] And, according to Lyukzayeva's sources, the medical staff at a hospital in Saransk were all told to vote for Putin.
Furthermore, the Communists also balked at the unusually high number of votes cast at home. This procedure is usually reserved for the old or the infirm, who petition for the right to have their ballot brought to them. Normally, Lyukzayeva said, each district has about 30 home voters. But in this election, some polling stations were registering 100 to 200 people casting their ballots at home.
"And this amount - from 100 to 200 - was at many polling stations the difference between the votes cast for Putin and Zyuganov," she said.