For Vladimir Voters: Cookies, Cake, and Confusion

THE buffet table groaning with affordable pastries, cheese, sausages, chicken, doughnuts, and assorted chocolate was waiting for Valentina Filatova in the next room after she dropped her colored voting slips into the wooden ballot box at Polling Station No. 23.

``I knew in advance there would be a special snack bar, but I didn't just come here for that,'' the elderly pensioner said, clutching a plastic bag full of cheese. ``I came to vote in favor of the constitution. Russia needs order. I'm fed up with hooliganism.''

The array of special treats local authorities traditionally make available on election day to entice voters may have had something to do with it, but residents of this ancient city 75 miles east of Moscow appeared eager and enthusiastic as they lined up yesterday to vote for Russia's first democratically elected parliament and constitution.

``It's the duty of every individual,'' said baby-faced Army Private Sanya Skripkov, who came to Polling Station No. 9 with about 20 members of his tank division. ``We're deciding the future of Russia.''

Mayor Igor Shamov said interest in politics has declined here since the April referendum on President Boris Yeltsin's leadership. But he predicted that more than half of the 260,300 eligible voters in Vladimir and the surrounding regions would show up.

Russia's Choice, the front-runner that supports Mr. Yeltsin's policies, is the favorite in Vladimir among 13 contenders, Mr. Shamov said, with two pro-reform parties, the Party of Russian Unity and Concord and the Yavlinsky-Boldyrev-Lukin bloc, trailing not far behind. ``There are a lot of people among their ranks who are in favor of a market economy and that's attractive to a lot of [voters],'' he said.

No elections to local government are being held, but six local candidates are competing for one seat in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, and five candidates are vying for two seats in the Federation Council, or upper house.

New rules may make voting for candidates difficult, however. In the past, voters were asked to cross out the name of the candidate they did not want. But now they are being asked to make an ``X'' next to the candidate they do want. More confusing, now they have to cross out the word ``no'' if they are in favor of the constitution and the word ``yes'' if they do not want it passed.

``With obvious confusion, I doubt that the results of the election can really be called the voice of the people,'' says Viktor Mirozhki, a reporter for a local newspaper, ``Anyway, our country is in such bad shape economically, nobody cares who comes to power.''

Others, however, were more optimistic. ``We expect to see a lot of voters today,'' says snack-bar worker Nadezhda Talashmanova. ``People can buy a lot of things here to take home with them like plums, cheese, meat, and buttermilk.''

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