Russian elections over the past two decades have come a long way, but one thing remains obvious: elections in Russia have turned into a nationwide charade.
The main problem with the all-Russian state farce called elections is the mass falsification of voting results. The saying, "It's not how they vote, it's how they count," which has been around for decades, remains highly relevant. Elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation, as well as presidential elections, have never been "free and fair." For example, the State Duma elections held on September 17-19, 2021, maintained a majority for the "United Russia" party in the lower house of the Russian parliament. The voting took place against a backdrop of massive repression against the opposition, pressure on independent media, and thousands of cases of falsification. During the parliamentary elections, opposition candidates were winning in several single-mandate districts, but after the remote votes were counted, "United Russia" emerged victorious in all of them. These elections in Russia took place for the first time in a three-day format, with numerous violations and manipulations. Among the violations were massive ballot stuffing, multiple voting by the same individuals, voter bribery, pre-marked ballots or markings for "United Russia," distribution of passports to residents of ORDLO (separate areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions) on the day of the vote, lack of ballot security between voting days, and manipulation of commission documents, as well as intimidation of observers. The three-day elections "increased the likelihood of fraud and complicated the monitoring process." The record-low approval rating of "United Russia" led Russia to its least free vote in 20 years of Putin's rule. These elections in Russia finally solidified the country's status as a harsh autocracy.
On September 10, 2023, Russia will hold a "unified voting day." Voters will choose 21 governors (including the mayor of Moscow), while another 5 "governors" will be appointed or "elected in parliament." The 2023 campaign to renew regional elites will follow a well-established algorithm. Russian authorities plan to use the already tested tactic of stretching the "voting" over several days. This became possible after a law was passed in Russia in the summer of 2020, allowing elections to be held over several days, ostensibly motivated by the need to reduce the concentration of people at polling stations during the pandemic. Throughout the country, the authorities use administrative resources to increase voter turnout and achieve the desired outcome. The trend of declining voter turnout is evident, driven by deep disillusionment with the existing regime. The Kremlin, continuing its "pretense of democracy," employs its well-developed toolkit to achieve desired results. Over the years, the mechanism has been refined and operates like clockwork. Russia has long been creative in its approach to falsification, creating "carousels" and other large-scale voter mobilization schemes in favor of the ruling party through illegal means, developing new voting mechanisms that open up new avenues for result manipulation. In the four regions of Ukraine occupied by Russia, Moscow also plans to hold so-called "elections." And this "electoral circus" in the occupied territories will be conducted according to Russian electoral legislation. The Central Election Commission of Russia announced the start of early "voting" on September 1 so that residents of annexed territories who are "away from home" can vote at "extraterritorial polling stations" set up in 81 Russian regions.
These are not the only methods devised in Moscow to organize pseudo-elections in Ukraine's territory. For example, local residents can vote using Ukrainian paper passports or even driver's licenses. Although the occupational administrations regularly report successes in their passportization campaign, it is evident that the number of Russian passports forcibly distributed to Ukrainians in the occupied areas was insufficient for holding "elections." The fake referendum in 2022 showed that Ukrainian citizens refuse to participate in such events. The Kremlin has to innovate to expand its electorate and use tactics to create the appearance of legitimacy. Russian authorities have also introduced a new initiative called the "mobile voter" in an attempt to increase turnout and the number of votes. "Mobile election groups" have already begun canvassing local populations in temporarily occupied territories, but the voting urns remain largely empty. All of this calls into question Russia's claims that 5% of the population has already participated in the elections. Another feature of the "electoral process" in the "new regions," as Russia calls the four occupied regions of Ukraine, is that local "election commissions" are allowed not to publish the lists of candidates by name. Voters are offered the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the candidate lists directly at polling stations.
All of this attests to the final degradation of Russia's electoral system. This system cannot be considered one that ensures the realization of democratic norms and freedoms in society.