Ballot-box stuffing, car-boot polling booths and a fixed win: What to expect from Russia's election

Credit: AP

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Alicia Curry

Russian's will journey to the ballot box this weekend in what is expected to mark a six-year extension to Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The vast majority of votes will be cast over three days from March 15, though early and postal voting has already begun, including in occupied parts of Ukraine where Russian forces are attempting to exert authority.

But with the prospect of removing Putin from power despairing, "voting is futile and the polls are essentially a constitutional box-ticking exercise," Dr Stephen Hall, an expert in Russian and Post-Soviet politics, told ITV News.

While the elections are objectively undemocratic and primarily symbolic, voters will still turnout.

So, amid anecdotes of armed police escorting voting officials into people's homes, polling booths erected in car benches and no polar opposition, ITV News explains how the Russian election works for the average citizen.

How do Russia's presidential elections work?

The first round of Russian presidential elections will happen in a three-day stint from March 15 to March 17.

If no candidate reaches 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will later compete in a second run-off election.

"It's more democratic than Britain," Dr Hall said.

"At least that's the Russian rhetoric. Here, people have only one day to vote and so most people who are working nine to five don't have time to go the polling both whereas in Russia people are given an entire weekend."

Any Russian citizen over age 18 who is not in prison on a criminal conviction can vote. The Central Election Commission says there are 112.3 million eligible voters inside Russia and Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, and another 1.9 million eligible voters live abroad.

But while turnout is expected to be high - noted at 67.5% in Russia’s 2018 presidential election - it is difficult to validate the accuracy of this figure.

In previous elections observers and individual voters reported widespread violations, including ballot-box stuffing and forced voting.

What does polling look like for Russian citizens?

Voting stations in Russia's deeply divided states differ across the country, with some formalised booths more consistent with a traditional polling both.

In recent years, however, reports have emerged of stations having sprung up in car boots, park benches and inside tents.

During the 2021 parliamentary elections, the head of Russia's Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, denied the accusations and insisted outdoor voting was a "strictly controlled procedure."

Voting officials often go around houses in Russia to collect votes, but there has been claims armed police escort the officials. Credit: AP

While the ballot itself fundamentally follows a similar principle to the UK, ticking your first presidential choice, the difference - which Dr Hall said "can't be overstated" - is the presence of fear.

Russian society is largely atomised, with conversations surrounding politics limited beyond praise of Putin.

It has led to voting behaviour that is entirely dependent on the individual and a swing from the norm holds a risk.

"Those going into the polls who have something to fear, will undoubtedly feel it," Dr Hall explained.

"In the past we've also seen heavy police presence at polls, even instances where polling personnel have gone into people's homes with an armed policeman, asking them to vote," he added.

"On the face of it, there's a democratic process but in reality it is anything but."

Who is running in the election?

Vladimir Putin is running as an independent, backed by branches of the ruling United Russia party and coalition party the People’s Front.

Several other candidates will give the semblance of opposition to the incumbent president.

Nikolai Kharitonov, a member of the Communist Party of Russia, is expected to come second in the presidential election against Putin. Credit: AP

Nikolai Kharitonov will be on the ballot as leader of the Communist Party of Russia, the country's second largest party in parliament.

Kharitonov has opposed some of Putin’s domestic policies but not Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

Although the Communist candidate typically follows Putin in the vote tally, Kharitonov does not present a significant challenge to the current president.

As the party’s candidate in the 2004 election, he tallied just 13.8%.

Leonid Slutsky, will run for president as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). Credit: AP

Leonid Slutsky was voted to be the far-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) for Russia's candidate in the 2024 presidential race.

After he accepted his nomination he said his key aims were to ensure "all regions should enjoy an equal standard of living and social guarantees". But Slutsky later added he "won't take away votes from the President of Russia," predicting that Putin would "win by a huge margin".

Vladislav Davankov will likely be the alternative to Putin choice for Russian voters. Credit: AP

Vladislav Davankov declared his candidacy for the New People Party last year and is largely considered the most liberal candidate on the ballot.

He has centred his campaign around the expansion of civil and business freedoms. Davankov's manifesto also calls for 'peace and negotiations' in the Ukraine-Russia war, despite him previously voicing his support for the offensive.

It is likely that he will be considered the alternative to Putin, particularly after the Russian election commission rejected the anti-war candidate Boris Nadezdhin from running.

How likely is it that Putin will win the presidential election?

The president’s dominance over the Russian electoral system has already been reinforced as the election looms.

Nadezhdin, who was the dissident voice in the campaign, was barred after Kremlin-run authorities claimed more than 15% of the signatures he submitted with his candidate application were flawed.

Weeks later, Alexey Navalny, the poisoned and jailed former opposition leader who was the most prominent anti-Putin voice in Russia, died in a Russian prison.

While the outcome of the election is speculative, Putin winning is "determined," Dr Hall said.

But he added if a "free and fair election" were to be held, the incumbent would likely still win this term.

"Fear of challenging Putin, safety in the known choice and the economic backdrop would probably drive voters to keep him in power.

"Although, it's worth noting that if there was to be a second round, I believe Putin would only just scrape through because he doesn't necessarily have the same grounding he once did," Dr Hall said.

However, he added the "conversation is irrelevant because Putin will win."

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