25 June 2020
Russia's constitutional reform vote: Day 1

Russia's constitutional reform vote: Day 1

Maxim Shipenkov / EPA / TASS

The early voting phase of Russia's constitutional plebiscite began on June 25. Polling stations will remain open for an entire week in the run-up to the main voting day on July 1, as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus epidemic. Here's what happened across Russia on the first day of the vote.

Russians began casting ballots on Thursday morning in a vote on constitutional reforms that could see Vladimir Putin's rule extended by another 12 years. The plebiscite will run for a week as authorities aim to avoid crowds on the main designated voting day, July 1, as the country continues to fight the coronavirus epidemic, with over 7,000 confirmed cases reported daily. Over 230,000 cases remain active.

The vote, originally scheduled for April 22, was rescheduled due to the pandemic.

If the majority of Russians vote in favour of the amendments, Vladimir Putin's presidential term clock will be reset, allowing him to get re-elected in both 2024 and 2030. Other amendments cement Russia as the legal successor to the Soviet Union, outline the Russian people as a “state-forming” ethnic group, and describe marriage as an explicitly heterosexual union.

The reform has been widely criticized by opposition members, human rights groups, and academics, all of whom have pointed at the illegality of the vote and called it a smokescreen concealing Putin's attempt to remain in power.

  • Voters in Moscow and the Nizhny Novgorod region were able to cast their ballots online. Authorities reported that over 166,000 people voted during the first four hours, indicating a turnout of around 20%. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), more than one million Muscovites and close to 140 thousand Nizhny Novgorod residents submitted applications to take part in the vote online.
  • A 15-minute malfunction rendered the electronic voting portal inaccessible in the morning. The CEC claimed that the site stopped working because of a network overload.

  • Pavel Lobkov, a journalist and presenter on TV Rain (also known as Dozhd), exposed a major flaw in the plebiscite, as he was able to cast two ballots by voting at a Moscow polling station in the morning and voting online an hour later. All of the votes in the ballot box used by Lobkov were declared invalid, while the box itself was sealed off. Lobkov could now be found guilty of committing an administrative offence and face a fine of 30,000 roubles (approximately $430). CEC chairwoman Ella Pamfilova called the journalist's actions a 'provocation'.

  • Alexei Venediktov, deputy chairman of Moscow's Civic Chamber of Moscow and the editor-in-chief of the Echo of Moscow radio station, confirmed that Lobkov was able to vote twice. Venediktov said that a similar case had occurred at another precinct, leading to a ballot box being sealed and the potential dismissal of a local election official.

  • Moscow City Election Committee Chairman Yuri Yermolov recently claimed that online voters would not be able to obtain a second ballot, as they would be struck off their local polling stations' register. The only way an online voter would be able to receive a ballot was in the event of a 'mistake', Yermolov said.

  • Opposition leader Alexei Navalny reported that National Guard officers were being forced to vote along with their families. State employees from multiple Russian regions also said that they were being coerced to attend the vote.

  • Video broadcasts from all polling stations were expected to be put in place for the full duration of the vote – from June 25 to July 1. As it turns out, live broadcasts in Moscow will only be available from 7 a.m. on July 1 – the main voting day.

  • Members of election commissions across the country were documented issuing ballots from a number of rather strange locations, such as the the trunk of a parked car, inside a bus, on park benches and tree stumps.

  • Former PM Dmitry Medvedev and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that they had already cast their ballots.

  • Russian citizens that don't have access to polling stations were allowed to cast their ballots starting from June 10 – over 86,500 thousand people are confirmed to have voted from remote areas and long-distance ships. Close to 3,300 Russian citizens living abroad have also cast their ballots at diplomatic missions and embassies.