Belarus poll workers describe fraud in Aug. 9 election

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FILE - In this Aug. 9, 2020, file photo, a woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. In the three weeks since the election that kept President Alexander Lukashenko in power, hundreds of thousands of people have protested what they say was a rigged outcome. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)

MINSK – Even before the Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus ended, a poll worker in Minsk said she was asked to sign a document summing up its result, with the vote totals left blank.

Another worker who pointed out violations during the vote-counting was fired on the spot.

In the small city of Vitebsk, a poll worker signed a document with falsified results in favor of President Alexander Lukashenko and later was wracked with guilt for betraying the trust of the voters.

In the three weeks since the election that kept Lukashenko in power with a landslide win, hundreds of thousands of people have protested what they say was a rigged outcome. Demonstrations and strikes in the country have been met by a police crackdown including mass detentions, beatings and criminal charges against organizers.

The Associated Press interviewed election workers who said they saw ballot fraud or were pressured to falsify results in favor of Lukashenko. In addition, other evidence has been posted online showing falsifications and other irregularities.

To many in Belarus, where Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist since 1994 and has been accused of rigging previous elections, his victory last month seemed clearly implausible.

His main opponent, former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, drew crowds of tens of thousands of people after she entered the race in place of her husband, Sergei, a popular opposition blogger who was jailed before the election. She had managed to unite fractured opposition groups, channeling the growing frustration over the country's weak economy and Lukashenko’s swaggering dismissal of the coronavirus pandemic.

When the results were announced, however, the Central Election Commission said Lukashenko won 4.6 million votes, or 80%, and Tsikhanouskaya got only 588,000, or 10%.