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ReportLegislationRussian Federation17 January 2024, 18:43
Collage: Ksenia Telmanova


Key findings 

  1. Restrictions on passive suffrage 
  2. Changes in the rules of nomination and registration of candidates
  3. Conducting elections under martial law
  4. Novelties related to the appearance of individuals recognized as foreign agents or persons affiliated with foreign agents
  5. Changes to the rules of election campaigning
  6. Changes to the rules of election financing 
  7. Changes in the rules for conducting voting 
  8. Changes related to election control 


The 2024 presidential elections in the Russian Federation will be conducted under legislation that differs significantly from that which governed the preceding 2018 elections. It is noteworthy that the Federal Law "On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation" underwent 11 amendments between 2018 and 2023. During this period, 52 out of 87 articles and 3 out of 4 annexes of this law were amended.

Furthermore, certain provisions of the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in a Referendum of Citizens of the Russian Federation," which pertain to the presidential election but are not replicated in the Federal Law "On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation" (such as the status of members of election commissions, funding restrictions, etc.), have been amended.

Most importantly, in 2020, amendments to the Russian Constitution were ratified, enabling the president V. Putin to be elected for a third and fourth consecutive term (fifth and sixth term in total).


Key findings

  1. The pivotal alteration in Russia's presidential election legislation, profoundly impacting the entire political system, occurred with the 2020 amendment to the Russian Constitution. This amendment granted the president the exclusive right to seek re-election for a third and fourth consecutive term. The adoption of this amendment raised concerns, as the voting procedure did not adhere to constitutional standards of free expression of will, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the vote and the decisions made during it.
  2. The majority of legislative changes implemented between 2018 and 2023 were directed at restricting citizens' electoral rights, diminishing opportunities for public scrutiny, and expanding avenues for manipulation. In essence, there was a sustained assault on the collective sovereignty of Russian citizens and their right to participate in the governance of state affairs.
  3. Restrictions on passive suffrage, along with the exceptions to these restrictions, do not align with the Russian Constitution and their adoption clearly shows that adherence to the constitution is in fact not mandatory.
  4. Legal discrimination against Russian citizens labeled as "foreign agents" is occurring. This discrimination has notably impacted their electoral rights, including their ability to engage in campaigning or supporting candidates.
  5. Changes in election financing rules have increased the influence that regional and local government officials have over election commission members.
  6. Legislators picked and chose selectivity which new regulations to apply to presidential elections, unlike other elections. For instance, digital changes, like the DEG (Digital Election System) system for voting, were included, but not for signature collection. It did not impact the collection of signatures. The advanced rule allowing signatures in support of candidate nomination through the Gosuslug portal, added in electoral legislation in 2020, was not integrated into the presidential election laws/ 

1. Restrictions on passive suffrage

The major change was introduced in 2020 in the form of an amendment to the Russian Constitution and duplicated in the Federal Law on Presidential Elections in April 2021. Previously, both the Constitution and the Federal Law stated that a person had to be a Russian citizen, at least 35 years old, and have lived in Russia for a minimum of 10 years to be eligible for the presidency. Additionally, the Federal Law included the following restriction: individuals holding foreign citizenship, residence permits, or other documents confirming permanent residence in a foreign country were not allowed to run for the presidency of the Russian Federation.

In the updated Constitution and law, these limitations on running for the presidency took the following form: "A citizen of the Russian Federation, not younger than 35 years of age, who has been a permanent resident in Russia for at least 25 years, and who does not currently hold or has ever held citizenship of a foreign state or a residence permit, may be elected President of the Russian Federation." There is a provision concerning citizens of the Russian Federation who previously held citizenship in a state that was admitted to or part of which was admitted to the Russian Federation.

Thus, two key limitations to the eligibility criteria for a person to be elected as the president of the Russian Federation have been added. Firstly, the duration a person must have been a permanent resident in Russia has been increased from 10 to 25 years. Secondly, individuals who, at any point, held citizenship in a foreign state or possessed a residence permit or any document confirming permanent residence in a foreign country are now barred from being elected as president of the Russian Federation. 

We have repeatedly emphasized that removing the right to passive suffrage due to a foreign residence permit goes against Chapter 2 of the Russian Federation Constitution. We have referred to the logical reasoning outlined in Decision No. 14-P of 22.06.2010 by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation to support this argument. However, in the Conclusion on amendments dated 16.03.2020 (in Section 6.1), the Constitutional Court acknowledged this amendment as not conflicting with Chapters 1 and 2, explicitly stating that it aligns with the conclusion made in Decision No. 14-P of 22.06.2010. Nevertheless, we have not encountered any justification for this statement.

The requirement that a presidential candidate should not have held previous citizenship, or a residence permit is surprising from both a common-sense and legal logic perspective. This requirement may result in a violation of the principle of equality of citizens' rights.

It is worth mentioning an essential excerpt from the Constitutional Court's Conclusion dated 2020-03-16: "However, the fact that a citizen of the Russian Federation in the past had a residence permit or any other document confirming the right to reside in a foreign country could be related to their fulfillment of obligations towards the Russian Federation or the Soviet Union. In cases like these, based on the specific purpose of the relevant requirement, this circumstance should not be considered as an obstacle to holding the position of the President of the Russian Federation.".

In fact, it is explicitly stated here that the requirement introduced in the Constitution will not be obligatory to fulfill.. It implies that the requirement may be selectively applied to some presidential candidates while not to others,  based on the intended purpose of the specific requirement 

Another important amendment has been made to the Constitution. Previously, there was a restriction on serving as president for more than two consecutive terms. Now, the term "consecutive" has been removed. However, a provision on the "zeroing" of terms has been introduced. This provision applies to a person who has held or is holding the office of the President of the Russian Federation, disregarding the number of terms during which they held or are holding the office at the time of the amendment's entry into force. This provision does not preclude the possibility for the president to serve for a third (and subsequently, a fourth) consecutive term or for a fifth and sixth term, counting from their initial election, essentially allowing them to continue in office in 2024.

In 2020, the Golos movement highlighted in its statement that the vote on the amendment to the Russian Constitution did not adhere to the standards of free and democratic expression of will. They described it as an instance that entered the country's history "as an example of an attempt to infringe upon the sovereignty of the people." Specifically, intentional and unintentional gaps in the regulatory framework governing voting procedures were allowed, leading to a deliberate and targeted reduction in the level of protection of the rights of voting participants compared to the standard set of electoral guarantees. Key entities involved in organizing the voting process repeatedly exceeded their powers. Consequently, the tallying of 58.6 million votes received before July 1, as well as votes obtained through remote electronic voting, had no legal basis

In 2020, the state failed to meet its obligations, failing to implement adequate measures to guarantee a diversity of opinions in public discourse, uphold freedom of expression, and ensure the integrity of the voting process and the counting of votes. Thus, the very decision that gave the current president the exclusive right to run for a third consecutive term was adopted with major legal violations.

Since 2006, the electoral legislation has introduced other restrictions on passive suffrage not provided for by the Constitution. In the period described, two more categories were added: Citizens convicted to imprisonment under 53 articles of the Criminal Code (crimes of medium gravity), until the expiration of five years from the date of removal or expungement of the conviction; Citizens involved in the activities of a public or religious association or other organization in respect of which a court decision on liquidation or prohibition of activities on the grounds provided for in the federal laws "On countering extremist activity" and "On countering terrorism" has entered into force.

Furthermore, for citizens convicted of committing “extremist” crimes, the duration of their loss of passive suffrage rights has been extended. Previously, the restriction applied only to individuals who had an unexpunged conviction on the day of voting; now it lasts for up to five years from the date of expungement.

At the same time, the practice of establishing the involvement of citizens in the activities of banned organizations, which has developed in recent years, allows politicians to be deprived of passive suffrage almost arbitrarily and directly during the election campaign.

All these novelties are aimed at eliminating "undesirable" candidates (mainly self-nominated) at the first stage of the campaign, not allowing them to start collecting signatures (although collecting signatures is an impossible task for a self-nominated candidate without administrative resources).

2. Changes in the rules of nomination and registration of candidates

The main changes in this part concern the rules of signature collection. First, the form of the signature list has been unified: it must contain exactly five lines - no more and no less. At the same time, it was established that one folder should contain no more than 100 sheets. Secondly, the requirement was introduced that a voter must handwritten in the signature list not only his signature and the date of its entry, but also his surname, first name and patronymic. Accordingly, a new ground for recognizing a signature invalid has appeared: if the surname, name and patronymic are not handwritten by the voters (also based on the conclusion of a handwriting expert). All these novelties complicate the collection of voters' signatures and increase the possibilities for arbitrary rejection of signatures.

We should especially note that in 2020 the electoral legislation introduced a provision that allows collecting signatures in support of candidate nomination online, using the "Gosuslugi" portal. However, this progressive norm has not been introduced into the legislation on the Russian presidential election, although all the infrastructure for this is in place.

One novelty was adopted in connection with the ruling of the Constitutional Court. The Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in Referendums of Citizens of the Russian Federation" states that the decision of an election commission to register a candidate may not be overturned by a court due to the discovery of documents among the documents required for notification of nomination and registration of a candidate that do not contain any information required by law and (or) do not meet the requirements of the law for the execution of documents, or due to the absence of copies of any documents, if the election commission does not have the right to register a candidate. This novelty protects the rights of candidates, but such cases can hardly be expected in presidential elections. 

There are many other minor changes to the chapter on nomination and registration of candidates, which we will not dwell on.

3. Conducting elections under martial law

 An important innovation is the possibility to hold elections in the territories where martial law has been imposed. The specifics of holding elections in such conditions are established partly by law and partly by the CEC of Russia. The guarantees of free and democratic expression of the will are significantly limited at the legislative level: under martial law the restriction of fundamental human and civil rights and freedoms is allowed, without which no will of voters can be freely expressed or even formed.

4. Novels related to the appearance of individuals recognized as foreign agents or persons affiliated with foreign agents

In the period 2019-2022, the legislation on "foreign agents" has changed significantly. Not only legal entities, but also individuals can now be branded foreign agents. A register of people affiliated with foreign agents has appeared.

In this connection, several prohibitive or restrictive norms appeared in the electoral legislation. Thus, it is written down that participation of "foreign agents", as well as foreign citizens, "in the implementation of activities that contribute to or hinder the preparation and conduct of elections of the President of the Russian Federation, nomination, registration and election of a candidate, as well as participation in the election campaign in other forms is not allowed". It is separately stipulated that "foreign agents" cannot be members of election commissions and cannot contribute to election funds (the same prohibition applies to legal entities established by "foreign agents").

In other words, "foreign agents" were partially affected in their electoral rights, but they retain the right to stand as candidates. At the same time, requirements were introduced that a candidate who is considered a foreign agent or a person affiliated with a foreign agent must indicate this status in all his/her documents, as well as in campaign materials. At the same time, the register of persons affiliated with foreign agents is not publicly available, and a candidate must submit a special request to find out if they have been included in this register.

5. Changes in the rules of election campaigning

A number of changes are related to the possibility of registration as a candidate of a "foreign agent" or a person affiliated with a "foreign agent" - information about the status of such a candidate must be present in any information and campaign materials. The same applies to quoting statements of a "foreign agent" in campaign materials.

In addition, other changes have been introduced. The most important: registered candidates and political parties that have nominated registered candidates must submit to the CEC or the election commission of a constituent entity of the Russian Federation copies of campaign materials intended for placement in the media. This effectively enables election commissions to censor campaign materials in the media.

6. Changes in the rules of election financing

An important novelty is the authorization for regional and municipal authorities to allocate funds from their budgets to assist in the preparation and conduct of presidential elections in the Russian Federation, including voter information and additional remuneration (remuneration) for members of election commissions with the right to casting vote. Thus, the dependence of members of election commissions on regional and local executive authorities gets a legalized financial component.

7. Changes in the rules of voting

The most important change is the possibility to hold voting within three days. This novelty appeared during the pandemic period and was motivated by the need to reduce the number of voters in the voting room at the same time. However, it persisted after the end of the pandemic, and we already know that in the current campaign the CEC (Central Election Committee) decided on three-day voting. The analysis shows that three-day voting does not increase turnout in any significant way, but it does increase opportunities for fraud, coercion of voters to vote, and control of their will. The introduction of three-day voting resulted in the amendment of many articles of the law because of the need to adjust the terms of all electoral actions tied to the voting day.

At the same time, the law provided for "voting with the use of additional opportunities for the realization of citizens' electoral rights": 1) voting of voters outside the voting premises on territories and in places suitable for voting equipment (on adjacent territories, in public areas and other places); 2) voting of groups of voters who live (are) in settlements and other places where there are no voting premises and transportation to which is difficult. These methods of voting are difficult to control, and therefore they open additional opportunities for falsification, coercion of voters to vote and control over their expression of will.

Another innovation is remote electronic voting, which is planned to be implemented in a number of regions. This procedure, which is virtually uncontrollable not only by the public but also by members of election commissions, provides a potential opportunity for large-scale violations of the secrecy of the vote and falsifications, and the practice of its use in Moscow has already given many grounds for suspicion.

In addition, the list of grounds for voting outside the voting room has become open: in particular, "and other valid reasons that do not allow you to come to the voting room" has been added. This makes it possible to expand this procedure (which was previously excessive in some regions).

8. Changes related to election control

The main change regarding election control relates to the institution of deliberative members of election commissions. Such members now remain only in the CEC and election commissions of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, i.e. they are no longer in TECs and PECs. In addition, these members lose the right to attend meetings of lower-level election commissions and familiarize themselves with their documents.

The changes also affected the institution of observers. In 2016, the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in Referendums of Citizens of the Russian Federation" introduced a requirement to submit the list of observers to TECs no later than three days before election day. In addition, two more restrictions were introduced: no more than two observers were allowed to be appointed, who had the right to observe in turn; the same person could be appointed as an observer to only one commission. However, these three requirements did not apply to the 2018 presidential election. Now they have been introduced for the presidential elections as well. However, one of the requirements has been relaxed: it is possible to appoint no more than three observers for each day of voting.

Another restriction has been introduced: now the voting premises must have places for observers and media representatives, taking into account the requirements established by the CEC. In fact, the possibility to choose the place of observation is restricted, considering the specific situation.

Another restriction is related to the presence of media representatives at the meetings of the election commission when it establishes the results of voting, determines the election results, as well as during the counting of votes. Back in 2016-2017, there was a requirement for these representatives to have an employment or compensated civil law contract concluded at least two months before the day of the official publication of the decision on the appointment of elections. However, in 2022-2023, the possibility of working under a civil law contract was eliminated, and the right to be present at the vote count remained only for those who work in the media under an employment contract. Thus, the possibilities for media control were once again significantly reduced.


The report was prepared by:

  • A. E. Lyubarev
  • S. Andreychuk.
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