Voting Under Martial Law: How Suffrage Is Crippled

The authorities regularly twist the electoral law based on political advantages dictated to them. And the patient (main) 67-FZ “On Basic Guarantees of Voting Rights …” became Frankenstein-like – the once completely advanced and well-written law was crippled by countless changes, the list of which already takes up a significant part of the text.

This time, the amendments are 45 pages long and basically boil down to making the election even more distant from the voters and limiting voting from the remnants of public scrutiny.

But first things first.

“New Territories” and extraterritorial areas

The reality of 2023 dictates to lawmakers (or their curators in the presidential administration) their own logic. On the list of changes, the most noticeable is the approval of the voting procedure under martial law. In art. 10 sec. 1 of the Act adds eight new paragraphs concerning the election procedure in the event of martial law. Conditions were set under which the CEC, at the request of the governors, must schedule a vote, with mandatory consultations with the Ministry of Defense and the FSB. In the event of a threat to the life or health of voters, the CEC may suspend the campaign or cancel it altogether. It also fixes the possibility of other legislative restrictions on elections during martial law.

It is clear that this part of the amendments refers to the vote for the so-called “new territories”, which after the results of last year’s “referendum” suddenly became part of Russia. The elections of the authorities are to take place in the autumn, and an attempt is being made to adapt the electoral law to the military operations and a possible counter-offensive by Ukraine.

This story in itself is worth a separate analysis and description, but other amendments that will now be with us in the elections and without martial law are no less important for the Russian public. And there are many such changes.

It is possible to create extraterritorial objects outside the voting area. It is assumed that such places will be created so that the military in the war zone will be able to vote in regional elections, as well as for temporarily displaced people from the “new territories”, many of whom have fled to mainland Russia. Previously, this practice was used for “conspiracy dachas” in the Moscow and St. Petersburg elections and was mercilessly criticized by observers, since the procedure for their formation and the possibility of public scrutiny were significantly limited. It should not be excluded that some regions may try to use extra-territorial surveys to increase turnout or to provide the necessary results.

Electronic signatures and removing followers

Another important change is the consolidation of electronic voter lists and the possibility of electronic signature of documentation by members of electoral commissions. Such lists will be much more difficult to check for the presence of unauthorized persons or stuffing, which will greatly facilitate the life of counterfeiters.

The state continues to struggle with election observation. After limiting the powers of observers and destroying the status of a member of the committee with the right of consultative vote, they now accepted proxies of candidates and journalists. After all, it was the last two positions that were actively used by independent social activists and, in fact, remained almost the only opportunity to take part in the observation.

Now the powers of proxies are valid only for the duration of the campaign and are canceled at the time of voting. Additional restrictions for journalists have also been introduced: only those who have an employment contract with the editorial office, and not a contract for a public offer or other agreements, will be able to stay at polling stations. This is done so that the media does not cooperate with the observers and give them the opportunity to receive accreditation, because a full-fledged contract involves the payment of taxes and other financial and legal obligations that most newsrooms will not be prepared to accept. The right to photograph and film people present at the polling station is also limited.

Extreme resources and something reasonable

Candidates’ lives are even more complicated. They will not be able to campaign on websites to which access is restricted by Roskomnadzor. Most likely, we can talk about, for example, Facebook or Instagram, which belong to the recognized extremist corporation Meta. But it was these resources that were popular with opposition candidates for both fundraising and communicating with voters.

However, not all innovations can be called unequivocally harmful. The legislation excludes the mention of “absence certificates”, which have long been discontinued in Russian elections. Positive changes also include the increase in the ceiling for the free production of campaign materials for distribution to 278 rubles instead of 100, as it was before. This will slightly expand the possibilities of running campaigns in the field.

Overall, Russian electoral law continues to deteriorate. Its main essential content was to create conditions guaranteeing the extension of the power of itself indefinitely. However, in this context, the electoral law is undergoing the same transformation as other Russian institutions. However, one should not forget that a society that does not have the opportunity to express its attitude towards the authorities through the ballot box may sooner or later express its dissatisfaction in a much more radical way.


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