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Six highlights from Russia’s plebiscite on constitutional amendments

Source: Meduza
Alexander Ryumin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

When it was all said and done, Russia’s new constitutional amendments passed with 77.92 percent of votes in favor and 22.27 percent against. Those are the figures federal election officials announced with 99.97 percent of precincts reporting. The Central Election Commission has five days to finalize its tally. According to preliminary data, turnout was just shy of 65 percent. In two regions (Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod), Russians could vote electronically. Turnout in online voting surpassed 93 percent. 

Both turnout and popular support for the amendments was higher than when Russians voted to adopt the current Constitution itself in 1993 (when support was 58.4 percent with 54.8 percent turnout). Vladimir Putin was counting on this “better performance,” a source told Meduza, claiming that the Kremlin initially planned to outdo the 1993 referendum in numerical terms (when 33 millon voters endorsed the new Constitution) and later raised its goal to 50 million votes. 

Once again, Russia’s highest numbers were reported in Chechnya, where 97.92 percent of voters supported the amendments amid turnout at 95.14 percent. The next highest percentages of votes in favor of the amendments were reported in Tuva (96.79 percent), Crimea (90.07 percent), Dagestan (89.19 percent), and the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (89.19 percent). The only “protest region” was the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, where 54.57 percent of voters rejected the amendments and only 44.42 percent of voters supported them, with turnout at 58.28 percent. Russian voters who cast ballots in New York City also largely rejected the amendments. The consulate reported 816 total votes — 505 against and 310 for.

Federal election officials initially reported a “protest vote” in the Komi Republic, but the results later reversed as more ballots were counted. With 5.2 percent of polling stations reporting, the Central Election Commission announced that 68.88 percent of the votes in Komi were against the amendments and only 29.93 percent were in favor. With 28.31 percent of precincts reporting, however, the results flipped: now 66.19 percent of votes favored the amendments and 32.89 percent opposed. Officials say the initial results were based on just two precincts reporting.

Russia’s central election commissioner says her office didn’t receive a single complaint worth investigating, though the “Golos” election monitoring movement recorded 682 apparent violations by the morning of July 1. The news media also reported multiple irregularities, such as state workers being forced to vote, supposed cases of repeat voting, apparently inflated turnout in home voting, and several cases where individuals arrived at polling stations and learned that someone had already voted in their names. Additionally, the Central Election Commission began reporting preliminary voting results from eastern Russia at least six hours before polls closed in western Russia, claiming that standard election rules prohibiting the release of such information did not apply.

On July 1, as several days of voting wrapped up, opposition groups held a handful of protests. Lying on the ground in Red Square, eight activists used their bodies to form the number “2036,” referring to the year Vladimir Putin’s presidency will now end, if he utilizes his new right to run for another two terms in office. The police arrested the demonstrators and later released them without charges. Later that evening, a few hundred people in Moscow gathered in Pushkin Square without police interference. In St. Petersburg, about 100 people attended a similar rally and a few protesters were arrested. The same story repeated itself in a few other cities around the country. According to the website OVD-Info, police arrested more than 20 people at these demonstrations nationwide.

Story by Olga Korelina

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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