How the electoral system changed in post-Soviet Russia

How the electoral system changed in post-Soviet Russia

At the end of this week, the Central Election Commission (CEC) launched a series of educational events telling about the history of the Russian electoral system. The action is timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Central Executive Committee itself, but they will educate Russians starting right from the Novgorod Assembly. However, the head of the Kommersant politics department Dmitry Kamyshev I decided to limit myself to post-Soviet history and recall the main milestones in the development of Russian elections over the past three decades.

September 24, 1993 President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree “On the formation of the Central Election Commission for elections to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.” It is this date that the Central Election Commission now considers the birthday of the modern electoral system of Russia, which over the past 30 years has passed a difficult and in some places a very tortuous path.

First elections to the State Duma December 12, 1993 took place according to temporary regulations approved by presidential decree. Therefore, the newly elected deputies had to create the electoral system virtually from scratch. Already by mid-1995 The basic set of documents necessary for this was adopted:

  • basic law on guarantees of voting rights,
  • laws on elections of the State Duma and the President,
  • as well as the law on local self-government, which established the election of heads of municipalities either directly by citizens or by representative bodies from among their members.

And in the same year, the Central Election Commission launched the State Automated System (GAS) “Elections”, which made it possible to transfer most electoral procedures to an electronic basis - from voter registration to processing voting results in elections at different levels.

Over the next five years, the Duma periodically returned to electoral legislation, mainly to improve it based on electoral practice. For example, in 1999 was accepted great package of amendments to the law on guarantees, aimed primarily at combating various violations and, in particular, “dirty” political technologies such as “black PR” and the nomination of double candidates. A in the fall of 1999 finally appeared framework law on the authorities of the constituent entities of the federation, which for the first time legislated direct elections of regional heads. Russians began electing governors en masse since 1995but formally this was done on the basis of a decree of President Yeltsin, and not a federal law.

The main event of the next decade, which seriously influenced the development of the Russian electoral system, was party reform. In 2001 was accepted Law “On Political Parties”who have become the only collective participants in the electoral process.

If in the 1990s almost any socio-political organization could nominate candidates for elections at various levels, now this right remains only with parties that meet all the requirements of the new law.

To stimulate local party building, the law on regional authorities added a requirement to distribute at least 50% of the seats in legislative assemblies of constituent entities according to party lists (later similar norms were introduced in relation to municipal councils). And even in the sphere of election observation, party members received a leading role: if previously public organizations could appoint observers to polling stations, now only parties and candidates can.

However, not all parties were able to take advantage of these advantages, since the requirements for them themselves were also tightened in the mid-2000s. The increase in the minimum number of parties from 10 thousand to 50 thousand people led to the disappearance of dozens of organizations and the consolidation of the remaining ones, and as a result, from 50 parties registered by 2003 under the new law, before the Duma elections 2007 made it to 15, but only seven before the 2011 elections. And themselves the 2007 elections were held exclusively on party lists for the first time (before this, half of the deputies were elected from lists and half from single-mandate constituencies) and with the passage barrier increased from 5% to 7%. The Kremlin explained these innovations by the need to strengthen the vertical of power after the bloody terrorist attack in Beslan in September 2004.

With the same motivation since the beginning of 2005 were direct elections of governors canceled, which regional parliaments began to approve on the proposal of the President of the Russian Federation. Thus, the heads of the subjects were, in fact, removed from the general electoral system. In addition, in the mid-2000s, several more innovations were adopted aimed at streamlining the electoral process. In particular, were canceled an electoral deposit, a column “against all” on ballots and a lower turnout threshold; instead of a “floating” election schedule, two single voting days were introduced in different regions - in March and October, and parties represented in the Duma received a “parliamentary privilege” - the right to nominate candidates in elections of all levels without collecting voter signatures.

The impetus for the next electoral reform was again “extraordinary circumstances,” but this time of a purely peaceful nature.

After the elections to the State Duma, held in December 2011, a wave of mass rallies swept across Russia, whose participants protested against the falsification of voting results. The authorities refused to review the election results, as the protesters demanded, but soon announced a significant liberalization of party and election legislation. The main ones of these measures werereturn of direct gubernatorial elections (but with the simultaneous introduction of a “municipal filter”, to overcome which candidates must enlist the support of a certain number of municipal deputies) and significant relaxation of requirements for parties: their minimum number was reduced to 500 people, and “parliamentary benefits” were provided to all registered parties, and not just those with factions in the State Duma. This led to a surge in party building: by the end of 2012, the number of registered parties increased to 78. A little later there were mixed elections to the Duma were also returned - in the same proportion of 50/50.

True, some of these reliefs did not last long. So, after a couple of years, the “parliamentary privilege” was taken away from small parties, leaving it only for those who have factions in the State Duma or regional legislative assemblies. Regions were given the right to voluntarily abandon direct elections of governors in favor of their approval by parliaments, which was done in most of the republics of the North Caucasus (later this norm was extended to the autonomous okrugs that are part of the “matryoshka” entities). In addition, the standard for collecting signatures for self-nominated candidates was increased from 0.5% to 3% of the list of voters, and instead of two single voting days, there was only one - in September. Early 2015 Amendments to the law on local self-government were adopted, allowing the constituent entities of the Russian Federation to replace direct elections of heads of local administrations with their appointment by competition, which many regional authorities immediately began to readily use. As a result by mid-2023 There are only five regional capitals left in Russia, the mayors of which are still directly elected by residents.

Well, the latest (for now) event, not even of an all-Russian, but of a global scale, which had a very radical impact on the electoral system of the Russian Federation, was, of course, COVID-19.

It was to combat the spread of the new infection that multi-day voting was invented, which, according to the election organizers, allowed minimizing the number of voters simultaneously present at the polling station.

For the first time, the “multi-day” was tested during the all-Russian vote on amendments to the Constitution summer 2020 and proved itself so well that within a month it was enshrined in legislation as a legal way of expressing will in elections at any level. Only instead of seven days, as was the case in the plebiscite, legislators limited the “multi-day” to a maximum of three, and gave the right to make decisions on this issue to regional election commissions. At the same time, however, we had to come up with additional measures to protect the ballots, which for two nights remained essentially unattended by members of the election commission and observers.

On the same anti-Covid wave, remote electronic voting (DEG), tested in the Moscow City Duma elections, received a new impetus in pre-pandemic 2019. True, the scale of implementation of this innovation is still inferior to the prevalence of the “three-day plan”: in the September 2023 elections DEG was used in only 25 regions, and the CEC is unlikely to achieve at least 50% coverage of the country with online voting by the 2024 presidential elections. But they have already made it clear that, no matter how the epidemiological situation develops, they are not going to abandon both of these innovations, since both the “three-day period” and the DEG, according to the unanimous assessment of election officials and sociologists, turned out to be extremely convenient for ordinary voters.

Dmitry Kamyshev

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