The Electoral Code of the Russian Federation: Thirty Years of Discussions and Insights

Lyubarev A.E.


The paper discusses the thirty-year history of attempts to codify Russian electoral legislation. The first draft of the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation was developed in 1994 by an initiative group lead by Viktor Sheinis and submitted to the State Duma by deputies from the Yabloko faction. The reasons for its rejection at the time included the fear that work on the Code would take too long, as well as the opinion that legislation should be codified after the adoption of individual laws. The State Duma and then the Central Election Commission (CEC) recognized the expediency of developing an Electoral Code, but the work was never completed. The next draft of the Code was prepared in 2011 under the supervision of the author of this paper, and two more drafts were produced later. The paper discusses some legal issues arising in the course of codification of electoral legislation: incorporation of referendum issues (including all-Russian referendum) into the Electoral Code, structure of the Code, regulation of regional and municipal elections in the Electoral Code. The paper concludes with the hope that the Electoral Code will become relevant when the country's political development vector starts to change.

One of Viktor Sheinis' most significant achievements was the drafting of Russia's first Electoral Code in 1994. In the following years, the idea of codifying the electoral legislation was occasionally raised and discussed, and several more drafts were created.

This paper explores the history of these discussions and developments. As a tribute to the memory of Viktor Sheinis, the author of this paper would like to acknowledge his contribution to the creation and discussion of the 1994 draft, as well as his participation in the next draft prepared in 2011 under the supervision of the author of this paper. Proceeding from these drafts, the paper will discuss the most pressing legal issues that arise during the preparation of the Electoral Code: incorporation of referendum issues (including all-Russian referendum) into the Electoral Code, the Code's structure, regulation of regional and municipal elections by the Electoral Code.

A historical overview

The idea of creating an integrated and consistent electoral legislation goes back a long way. Back in the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR in 1992, a set of draft laws collectively entitled "On the Electoral Process" (also known as "Electoral Code of Russia") was developed by a working group led by the Committee's secretary Viktor Balala as part of the planned lawmaking activities of the Committee of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation on the Work of the Soviets of People's Deputies and the Development of Self-Government. The set included a draft law "On the Basics of the Electoral Process" (effectively the General Part of the Code) and six draft laws (effectively the Special Part), which addressed the elections of the Supreme Soviet, the President, deputies of regional and local soviets, heads of administration, the referendum of the Russian Federation, and the local referendum (see [10: 276–308] for the draft laws "On the Basics of the Electoral Process" and "On Elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation"). In June 1992, this package was submitted for consideration by the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation. In July 1992, parliamentary hearings were held, at which the draft was criticized as underdeveloped [5].

Although we trace the history of attempts to codify electoral legislation back to this draft, it was not yet a draft code in the full sense. These were, after all, seven separate draft laws. The draft law "On the Fundamentals of the Electoral Process" can be considered more of a predecessor to the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of the Electoral Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation" than a predecessor to the Electoral Code.

The next attempt to create an Electoral Code was made in 1994 by the Yabloko faction. A team led by State Duma deputy Viktor Sheinis developed the draft code as an alternative to separate laws ("On Basic Guarantees of the Electoral Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation", "On Elections of Deputies to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation", "On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation"), which were being prepared under the supervision of the CEC of Russia. This draft was submitted to the State Duma on November 14, 1994 (see [33: 492–601] for the draft as of November 11, 1994). The Duma reviewed it at its plenary meeting on November 23, 1994 as an alternative to the draft federal law "On Elections of Deputies to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation" (the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation" had already been adopted by that time), introduced by the President of the Russian Federation. The presidential draft was adopted following a lengthy discussion. Nevertheless, in the resolution passed by the Duma, the development of the Electoral Code (taking into account the adopted federal laws on elections and the practice of their implementation) was recognized as expedient. The following sections will examine this draft and the related debates in the State Duma in more detail.

The issue of the Electoral Code was once again raised in 2000, this time by the CEC itself. The report of the Central Election Commission, published in October 2000, stated that the issue of codifying the electoral legislation could be addressed following the next election cycle (i.e., after 2004) [35]. However, no one actually set to work on the code. In 2004, The CEC approved the research program of the Scientific and Methodological Council, which included the development of the concept of the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation with a deadline set for the second half of 2006. In 2007, a new program was adopted, in which the preparation of the concept and structure of the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation was scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2008. However, the Scientific and Methodological Council made no moves on the matter.

In 2008, under the supervision of the GOLOS Association of Nonprofit Organizations for Defence of Voters' Rights (named "foreign agent" in 2014 and dissolved in 2020), a team of experts led by the author of this paper launched a public project to create the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation. The draft was finalized in 2011, and in 2012 it was submitted to the State Duma by five deputies from A Just Russia. However, the draft was returned to the deputies on the grounds of failing to meet the requirements of Part 3, Article 104 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation (lacking a statement from the Government of the Russian Federation). The deputies later obtained a statement from the Government, which, as was easily foreseen, turned out to be negative. By that time they had lost interest in the project and would not resubmit it. This project will be discussed in more detail in a subsequent section.

In 2016-2017, the experts managed to pique the interest of Ella Pamfilova, Chair of the CEC, and Sergey Kirienko, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, with the idea of the Electoral Code. The result was a new draft code development project called the Code on Elections and Referendums in the Russian Federation. The project was funded by Gazprom, commissioned by the Russian Foundation for Free Elections (an organization co-founded by the CEC), and executed by the Faculty of Political Science of Moscow State University with the participation of the Faculty of Law.

Work on the project began in the summer of 2018. It was discussed at several research and training conferences, but the overall scope of the discussion was much smaller than that of the 2011 project. The results were published online only in August 2019. At the same time, there was a separate publication of a draft Code based on the provisions of the current legislation [40], and a separate publication of Proposed Amendments to the Draft Code [12]. There were no attempts to submit this project to the State Duma. Discussion regarding it died down quickly. A new version of the Code was prepared in 2020, but it went completely unnoticed.

A critical analysis of these documents was also performed by the author of this paper at that time [29]. In a recent paper, Yevgeny Kudryashov [16] pointed out that this attempt to codify electoral legislation ended in nothing, as no appropriate solutions to existing issues were offered.

In 2022, the CPRF faction began work on the draft Electoral Code. A draft law was prepared in September 2022, discussed in November of the same year at hearings in the State Duma and published on the CPRF website [41]. The author of this paper presented a critical analysis of the document [27] (see also [47]).

The draft law was officially introduced to the State Duma by 13 CPRF deputies on February 22, 2023. The enclosed documents included a negative statement from the Government of the Russian Federation. As of October 2023, the bill has passed through the Duma Council, but has not yet been reviewed by the Committee on State Construction and Legislation.

As early as in the 1990s, some regions adopted their own codes [2: 190-195; 6]. At the moment, codified acts are in effect in 19 regions. In 12 regions they are called "Electoral Code", which include the Republic of Tatarstan; Primorsky and Khabarovsk Krais; Belgorod, Vladimir, Voronezh, Kostroma, Pskov, Sverdlovsk, Tver, Tyumen Oblasts, the city of Moscow. Some individual regions preferred to use different names for the document: the Code on Elections and Referendums (Kursk Oblast); the Code on Elections, Referendum, and Feedback (Altai Krai); Code on Elections (Republic of Bashkortostan). Four regions use a different name altogether that does not include the word "code" (Komi Republic, Rostov and Yaroslavl Oblasts, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug). These regions would make for an interesting case study, but this paper will refrain from examining them, since all regional laws have to comply with the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights..." in their structure and especially in their content.

The Yabloko faction project of 1994

In the State Duma of the first convocation, Viktor Sheinis created an initiative group that engaged in the creation of a draft Electoral Code. In addition to deputies from the Yabloko faction and his longtime associates Aleksandr Sobyanin and Oleg Kayunov, Viktor Sheinis involved a number of renowned legal scholars — Irina Alebastrova, Vil Kikot, Anatoly Kovler, Vladimir Lysenko, and Boris Strashun — to work on the project [45]. However, not all of them fully supported the prepared draft. For example, speaking at a meeting of the State Duma on November 23, 1994, Sergei Zenkin noted that some of the members of the Code's author team were not in favor of including norms on holding a nationwide referendum [46: 672]. In his publication, Lysenko stated that the adoption of a federal election code is not a matter of the immediate moment, but of the not-too-distant future [19].

As was noted by Vladimir Gelman, the work on the draft Electoral Code was progressing slowly due to the desire of the developers to maximize the clarity of wording, to thoroughly coordinate positions. This approach would have been appropriate in a situation of regular legislation, but the transitional parliament required quicker solutions [5].

The draft left to the subjects of the Russian Federation the right to legislatively regulate elections to regional bodies of state power and local self-government, but within the framework established by the Code [33: 492].

The draft Code included five parts. The first part (General Provisions) consisted of 13 chapters and was in fact the general part of the Code. The remaining four parts were essentially special parts of the Code. They focused on the elections of the President of the Russian Federation, the State Duma and the Federation Council, as well as the referendum of the Russian Federation [33: 492–601].

Discussion of Yabloko faction's project in the State Duma

As it was mentioned above, the State Duma reviewed the draft Electoral Code prepared under the supervision of Viktor Sheinis and submitted by deputies from the "Yabloko" faction on November 23, 1994 as an alternative to the draft federal law "On Elections of Deputies to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation" submitted by the President of the Russian Federation ( the presidential draft of the Federal Constitutional Law "On the Referendum of the Russian Federation" was discussed and adopted at the same time). For that reason alone, it was hard to expect the draft to be discussed in full. Nevertheless, there was discussion, and in many ways it is still of interest today. Below we will provide quotations from the speeches of the deputies [46: 660–717].

First, this issue was raised in the co-report of Sergei Zenkin, Deputy Chair of the Committee on Legislation, Judicial and Legal Reform: "Each of you has a document in which the chairs of the three specialized committees — the Committee on Legislation, Judicial and Legal Reform, the Committee on Federal Affairs and Regional Policy, and the Committee on Local Self-Governance — express their views on the inexpediency of adopting the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation under transitional conditions... I am also obliged to communicate to you the committee's position that a number of provisions of the draft Electoral Code of the Russian Federation, which was submitted by a group of deputies from the Yabloko faction, were assessed positively. Therefore, in the draft resolution of the State Duma, in paragraph 2, it is proposed to indicate that when the draft law is revised for the second reading, the provisions of the draft Electoral Code should be taken into account in terms of the democratic basis for appointing, running and empowering election commissions. Other matters to be taken into account in regards to election commissions are transparency in their work, public control over the conduct of elections, summarizing and publishing the results of voting, and financial support for the preparation and conduct of elections. And one more point, an exceptionally significant one. The idea of codifying electoral legislation is, naturally, a positive one. But it is logical to proceed with codification when there are laws already in place. At the moment, however, there is neither a law on the election of Duma deputies nor on the election of the President. There are still discussions about what the procedure for the appointment of the Federation Council could be. The development of the Electoral Code is therefore a matter of the future. The development should proceed in the light of the individual election and referendum laws that the current Parliament will enact, as well as the implementation of said laws. Therefore, in the draft resolution of the State Duma, the Legislation Committee proposes to recognize the expediency of the prospect of developing an Electoral Code, taking into account the adopted federal laws on elections and their implementation".

Next to deliver a report on the draft Electoral Code was Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko faction. This is what he said, in particular: "I think that in many ways, the vote is actually predetermined already... And some of [the laws] will be rejected not because they are less competent, and not because they are not timely enough, but because there is this perception that the President will sign, at least in terms of elections, only those laws that he himself submits. And if another law is adopted as a basis for at least one of the directions, then in this case the President will not sign it, the whole process will be delayed, and we will be elected by presidential decrees or by instructions or what not. It seems to me that this approach to an issue that is central to the entire work of the Duma is wrong. We have enough reason to spend not one meeting, but a whole series of them to discuss all the submitted projects not as stark alternatives to one another, but as a search for the most acceptable solutions...

I thank the previous speaker for his professional words with regard to the fact that a code is actually better than separate legislation, and the codification of legislation is an important task, all the more so when it comes to a process as complex and responsible as elections. However, I will allow myself to disagree with only one consideration: that codification is better done after the laws have been drafted. Not at all! Codification should be carried out along with the development of laws, when you codify them at the very start, when you put common principles in the foundation, when you have a common network and a common system. We may of course say we will do it sometime later. But I dare to take it upon myself to declare that we will never do that, because temporary matters always supplant all the things that need to be done later. If we pass separate laws now, we will be left with these separate laws. We will never find the time to rework them, piece them together into a single system, codify them, and so on". Those words turned out to be prophetic.

Yavlinsky then made the following observation: "What does codification allow us to do in practice? What makes it possible to treat this as a single set of laws? In addition to improving the quality of the laws themselves, it avoids overlap, it provides a common part for all laws, and it reveals a number of important concepts, such as equal suffrage, how constituency borders are determined, the functions of election commissions, and the powers of observers. All of this constitutes the foundation upon which all specific, stand-alone laws are developed".

The debate involved representatives of different factions and groups. Olga Zastrozhnaya (Vybor Rossii faction, future secretary of the CEC): "Unfortunately, the present situation makes it absolutely impossible to adopt electoral legislation in the form of the Electoral Code. There are constitutional and other legal obstacles that prevent this... This implies that prioritizing the Electoral Code at this time would significantly slow down the process of adopting electoral legislation. Therefore, the most logical and acceptable step today is to adopt separate electoral laws, and as have already been said, this is the path we have taken by adopting the law on basic guarantees of citizens' electoral rights. However, the impossibility of adopting the Electoral Code does not at all negate the fact that it is democratically substantial and does a good job of prescribing various electoral procedures. Therefore, the sensible way of solving the issue seems to be this: to adopt the individual electoral laws presented by the President as a foundation, but on condition that certain amendments are made to them... The amendments should be made to saturate the articles that deal with the appointment and operation of electoral commissions (as well as control over said operations) with the democratic institutions that are included in the text of the Electoral Code".

Oleg Mironov (CPRF, future Commissioner for Human Rights): "Two positions, two approaches have been expressed: to adopt either separate laws on elections or the Electoral Code. However, I don't think these positions are mutually exclusive. We may follow both directions, especially since we have already taken the first step in the direction of adopting separate laws by adopting the Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation". This is no other than the general part of the Electoral Code... Both options are acceptable. A code is the highest form of systematizing legislation. This is a highly preferable regulatory document, since every citizen, every party will have an answer to a whole range of election-related questions when they take one regulatory document in their hands. But adopting the code requires us of a number of provisions, and this takes a lot more time. Therefore, it is reasonable to proceed with both the adoption of individual laws and work on codification, as Vladimir Semago, who is a knowledgeable member of our faction, has suggested to me. As for the draft law on the election of State Duma deputies, there is a proposal to take the presidential version as a foundation and, at the same time, to take everything rational that the Electoral Code proposed by the Yabloko faction has to offer".

Then, Viktor Sheinis spoke on behalf of the Yabloko faction: "First of all, on behalf of the authors' team that worked on the Electoral Code, I would like to thank everyone who found kind words to say to us, including our opponents... I would like to highlight the strong degree of unity that has emerged with regard to the amendments that have been introduced in the projects of the Legislative Committee and that originate from the Electoral Code, namely the correlation of the two systems (proportional and majority), the rejection of the ban on nominating candidates in different constituencies (single-seat and all-federal) and the rejection of the privilege that was proposed for the factions already represented in the Duma...

How do we proceed and what do we do next? There seem to be (at least in abstract logical terms) three possible options. The first option. To adopt the Electoral Code as a foundation. The second option is to take as a foundation the drafts submitted by the President, and use the break between the first and second readings to fill them with those reasonable provisions from the Electoral Code that many speakers referred to. Finally, there is a third option: to adopt neither one option nor the other as the final version today, but to conduct conciliation procedures and to present for review and discussion a version that incorporates the best features of the various draft laws. The Yabloko faction is ready for any possible scenario.

And I have a response to the frequently asked question of why the Yabloko faction does not agree to presidential drafts, despite the fact that a number of major amendments proposed by it have been passed. Distinguished colleagues, indeed, substantial amendments have been made, but nevertheless, we believe that a number of crucial issues (some of which have already been discussed here, some of which we have had no time to discuss yet) have yet to be addressed in a satisfactory manner. Among these issues, in particular, is the issue of the powers of the Central Election Commission, which, according to the draft, is supposed to manage all election commissions, and has the right to deny registration (i.e., registration is accepted not through application, but a permission; the final decision lies with the court), and to decide the issue of airtime distribution, and to create a control and revision service like an actual ministry, and so on. In our opinion, this needs to be remedied even before the first reading. Moving on. We believe it is extremely important to reproduce the code's provisions on countering, on the one hand, administrative pressure and, on the other hand, the influence of big money on electoral processes. I would like to draw your attention to a number of articles of the draft Electoral Code, which explicitly forbid candidates to make promises of any sort of cheap giveaways, any sort of benefits that they promise to the voters on their own behalf, rather than through implementing a law. In our opinion, if this feature is carefully elaborated and introduced before the first reading, it will keep us protected from very dangerous processes that are already manifesting themselves at present. Moving on. We consider it extremely necessary that, when election commissions are appointed, there is a principle that prevents their appointment from above... We consider it extremely important that election commissions be appointed first and foremost by the representative bodies at the level for which these commissions are to operate. And what is equally important is that the chairs of these commissions should not be appointed from above, but elected by the election commissions. Then the chair will not be a self-perpetuating figure, but someone who is on an equal footing with the other members of the commission".

Lyudmila Zavatskaya was the next to take the floor: "After a thorough discussion of the submitted drafts, the faction of the Women of Russia political movement has decided to adopt the drafts submitted by the President as a foundation, but to also take into account the comments and provisions that were formulated by the Yabloko faction in the draft Electoral Code".

Viktor Talanov: "The faction of the Democratic Party of Russia recommended that deputies, members of their faction use their vote to support both the Yabloko's version of the Electoral Code and the bills submitted by the President, as amended by the Legislation Committee".

Vladimir Isakov (Agrarian Party of Russia faction): "A few words about the idea of the Electoral Code... Drafting a code involves a tremendous amount of work, it is the most complicated activity, the legal work put into it is of the most exquisite nature... The work on the Electoral Code is in its infancy. I believe we will get to the point of actually adopting an Electoral Code. Most likely, this job will fall on the next deputy corps. However, let us walk the path we have already embarked on. We have adopted the law on basic guarantees of electoral rights, and all other laws should follow. This logic has already been set by the first law you and I voted for".

Gridory Yavlinsky emphasized the following in his closing remarks: "All the amendments that have been mentioned here are already in the Electoral Code, they are there, they have already been made, they don't need to be introduced again".

The next to speak was Anatoly Lukyanov: "It's unlikely that anyone suspects me to be the ardent supporter of the current President. But I can tell you resolutely that you should have voted for the President's drafts with the amendments proposed by the committee. It is the best option of the electoral system for the transition period".

After discussion, the Duma voted in favor of the presidential draft; the draft Electoral Code was left out of voting. But the resolution passed by the Duma stated this: "2. When finalizing the draft law for the second reading, the provisions of the draft Electoral Code of the Russian Federation, introduced by a group of deputies — members of the Yabloko faction — should be taken into account in the part concerning the democratic basis for appointing, operating and empowering of election commissions, transparency of their operations, public control over the conduct of elections, summarizing and publishing the results of voting, financial support for the preparation and conduct of elections... 6. To recognize the prospect of developing the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation with due regard for the federal laws on elections and the practice of their implementation as expedient".

During the preparation of the draft for the second reading, some of the innovations contained in the draft Electoral Code were indeed included in the law, and the amendments submitted by Viktor Sheinis and his colleagues from the faction were used as a basis. For example, Vladimir Gelman [5] emphasized the following amendments:

· appointment of constituency and precinct election commissions by the relevant representative authorities and elected bodies of local self-government;

· ban on bribing voters in any form both at the stage of signature collection and during campaigning; there was also a ban on campaigning by providing voters with goods, services, securities, etc. free of charge or on preferential terms;

· limiting the ceiling of candidates' and electoral associations' campaign funds;

· election commissions providing the vote-returns data from lower-level commissions in a summary table.

The "lost" decade

As illustrated in the previous section, the main arguments against the adoption of the Electoral Code in 1994 were as follows:

· it would be more reasonable to carry out codification after individual laws have been adopted and tested in practice;

· the adoption of the code takes a lot of time, and the next State Duma elections were less than a year away;

· there was a fear that the President would not sign an election law that was not initiated by him.

Vladimir Gelman also added a suggestion that other parties did not want to see Yabloko grow stronger [5].

Nevertheless, the majority in the Duma supported the very idea of developing an Electoral Code. And it was to be expected that after the 1995-1996 federal elections this idea would be realized. However, the Duma of the second convocation took a different path. What began was the finalization of the three main electoral laws. That said, the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation" was replaced by the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in Referendums of Citizens of the Russian Federation"ю The replacement laww was significantly expanded, not so much by adding provisions on referendums, but by describing most electoral procedures in more detail. This has led some legal scholars to assert that this "framework" law is in fact a codified act [13: 159-168; 39].

In the Duma of the second convocation, Viktor Sheinis was the head of the working group that drafted these laws. However, he did not promote the idea of the Codex during this period. Apparently, the prevailing belief at the time was that the electoral legislation had not yet reached a state where codification was possible. Moreover, the political situation was also unfavorable, as the Duma and the President were nearly always opposed to each other.

In 2000-2001, when Viktor Sheinis failed to get into the Duma of the third convocation, he and his associates resurrected the idea of the Electoral Code. A collective paper that was based on the presentations at an INDEM Foundation conference [44] stated:

"The body of electoral legislation has grown out of proportion. In some instances, several federal laws (as well as the Federal Constitutional Law "On Referendum of the Russian Federation") repeat each other verbatim, overlap, and then differ from each other explicitly or implicitly in regulating the same actions. Although the legislator strived for unification, the laws reached the finish line of parliamentary procedures at different times, were subject to different influences and pressures, and the legislator strived to reflect the ever-accumulating experience of electoral practices in the laws adopted later. In the meantime, discrepancies between the framework law "On Basic Guarantees...", whose provisions are enshrined as priorities, and special electoral laws have already generated undesirable clashes...

All this makes the proposal to consolidate all federal legislation regulating the preparation and conduct of elections into the Electoral Code, which has been put forward many times before (and has already been considered by the State Duma once), all the more relevant. Now, there are at least two good reasons to revisit the idea of an Electoral Code. First, the legislative work done since the first attempt to create an Electoral Code (which revealed the depth of the emerging issues) has greatly facilitated the possibility of solving this task. A number of complex issues that were left unresolved or unsatisfactorily addressed in that draft have been resolved in the adopted laws. In order to create a code, there exist pre-fabricated blocks that can be used to erect a building. Secondly, most recently, there have been legislative initiatives that blatantly undermine the achievements made along the way".

A number of legal scholars also spoke in favor of developing and adopting an Electoral Code in 2001–2003. For instance, Aleksandr Ivanchenko wrote: "The task of preparing a federal electoral code is overdue, it needs to be solved now, without aggravating the already difficult state of affairs in the electoral system" [9]. Yuri Dmitriyev: "There are two more years until the next State Duma election. Wouldn't it be better to spend this period of time on integrating the above-mentioned electoral laws and adopting an integrated federal Electoral Code?" [3]. Igor Borisov: "We need an Electoral Code of the Russian Federation that would establish the procedure and rules for organizing and holding elections in the country at all levels. Essentially, this is where we are headed" [1].

Among the measures to be taken to protect the electoral rights of citizens, Maksim Mateikovich named "Modernization of the system of legislative regulation of electoral relations, because the existing system leads to overlapping provisions, inconsistency and instability of electoral laws. In accordance with paragraph "c" of Article 71 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the federal legislator is obliged to fully regulate the electoral rights of citizens, which implies the earliest possible development and adoption of the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation" [32: 105–106, 278]. Later Mateikovich wrote a comprehensive paper on this subject [31].

The CEC report also referred to codification at the same time. However, it postponed this objective until "after the next election cycle" (i.e., after 2004) [35]. But even after 2004, neither the Duma nor the CEC made any attempts to create an Electoral Code.

There are two potential reasons for this delay. One of the reasons was articulated by an experienced lawyer Vladimir Isakov (see earlier) back in 1994: "Drafting a code involves a tremendous amount of work, it is the most complicated activity, the legal work put into it is of the most exquisite nature". In 2001-2003, the author of this paper had constant contact with the State Duma deputies and CEC representatives who worked on electoral legislation and can attest to the fact that they were simply afraid to take on such a difficult job.

However, there was another, more significant reason. As early as 2002, CEC Chair Aleksandr Veshnyakov believed that the election legislation was undergoing "the final major change" [48]. However, 2004 saw the beginning of a new overhaul of electoral legislation, which was more radical than anything else in the previous ten years [17: 538–573]. Viktor Sheinis made quite a clear observation of the difference in the legislator's approach in the 1990s and 2004–2005:

"As someone who was involved in this work, I can attest that at least the subjective motivation of the drafters of the electoral law was that the drafter noticed a certain distortion in electoral practice and attempted to prevent it legislatively in one way or another. In other words, throughout the 1990s, the main changes emerged from electoral practice, one way or another. The legislator responded to the problems revealed by electoral practice in a more or less appropriate manner. They tried to curb the abuse of administrative resource, the power of big and dirty money, improved public control over the elections... With this approach, the electoral system more or less complied with the principle of stability.

In 2004–2005, the electoral system went through a radical breakdown. What we have today is a fundamentally different electoral system. What has been accomplished now does not meet the objectives or requirements of the practice, but represents the execution of a specific plan. This plan got the name of the institution of 'managed democracy'" [43].

Public project on the development of the Electoral Code (2008–2011)

In 2008, a team of experts headed by the author of this paper initiated a public project to create the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation. The premise of the project was the conviction that neither the State Duma, nor the Presidential Administration, nor the Central Election Commission can create the Electoral Code that would ensure the country's democratic development and prioritize the electoral rights of citizens Such a code could thus be created only through the joint efforts of the public and the expert community.

During the work on the project, a large number of round tables were held in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities across the country. Viktor Sheinis took an active part in the events held in Moscow. We regarded his speeches as an instruction. Below are some excerpts from said speeches:

"First, this code is being done in the problematic hope that someday things will change. And then, instead of urgently creating expert groups, gathering developers, here you are — a law, a code already exists. That's one. Two: the situation may be difficult. Then it starts changing dramatically. This is when a demand position should be stated. This demand position should be stated to the fullest extent possible. Three: a clearly necessary and helpful thing to do at present is to provide resources to democratic parties and organizations that propose an alternative to the current regime. As in, what we really want is to see the electoral legislation that is such and such... The Code will have to be made from scratch, so to speak, the structure will have to be raised from the ground up. And that is why, again, I end my speech on the same note I started with: I stand in solidarity with those who believe that the code should be drafted without any political oversight, without an internal censor" [34: 30].

"Since the logic of electoral procedures is one and the same here, the drafters of the electoral code in the form of accompanying documents should present a set of laws associated with the electoral code...

It seems to me that the participants should be categorized into three echelons, tentatively speaking. The first echelon would include the people who are directly engaged in writing the code. It should probably be the main job for the participants, and those participants, there should be only a few, but they should get paid or be under contract. The second echelon is something like this meeting: give or take in terms of people, someone didn't show up, someone isn't going to participate. Forms of interaction include roundtable discussions, expert reviews, and discussion of each stage of the work. And the third echelon is a wider public, some distinguished people, people of merit, order-bearers, but knowledgeable people, who will to some extent be involved with their position and will give assessments" [34: 37-38].

"Before all else, we should take into account that the Code we are developing is unlikely to become the foundation of the legislative practice of the State Duma and the Federation Council in the near future. It represents a kind of program, and even if it is not entirely idealistic, it is still unacceptable for the current government. This is because while the code meets democratic principles, it goes — and should go — against the authoritarian political tendency. Does it have to fit within the existing legislation? One thing is the Constitution, which we should better stay away from for now, and another thing is the laws that have been adopted, but violate the spirit and the black letter of the Constitution. In the draft Code, I would clearly write down that gubernatorial elections shall be held only through direct election by the entire population. That is, when adopting the Code, you have to introduce amendments to a number of laws. The explanatory note to the Code should state that enacting the Code will require amendments to such and such laws. The democratic position should be clearly expressed... I think the position here should be clear" [34: 45].

"I'm in favor of the perfect law, the perfect code. I think it is necessary to request as much as possible, then we can retreat, give up positions and so on, but I will make one very important reservation straight away: after all, this text should be directed by the reality that we face today. That is not to say it should be along the lines of: here is some notion of an ideal, such a beautiful thing of a law that we will paint according to our notion of beauty." This was followed by Dmitry Katayev's remark: "The Code is ideal, but not for an ideal society" [34: 135].

In February 2009, Viktor Sheinis said: "First of all, I would like to express my satisfaction with the way our work is progressing. We are moving forward fairly quickly, and from one meeting to the next we are getting more and more thoughtful, detailed information that will become the backbone of the Code. In my opinion, the development is generally progressing in the right direction. I support the main points made by the speaker" [34: 79].

In the course of drafting, we published a conceptual paper [23] and a collection of proceedings on the discussion of the draft [34]. At the end of the project, we published a draft supplied with detailed comments by the author of this paper [11].

The project gained some support in the research community. Below are quotes from some of the papers published in support of the project.

"Naturally, the draft is not uncontestable. There is much room for improvement. But it does have a number of advantages over the existing electoral legislation. First, the draft makes elections into an actual tool of people's powere and gives voters an actual chance of affecting election outcome. In other words, the document makes elections free in the truest sense, as is prescribed in Article 3 of the existing Constitution. Of course, electoral fraud is inevitable under any law, but the Code project reduces the risk of "dirty" voting technologies as it includes serious guarantees of objectivity at all stages of an electoral campaign. Second, it gives us back the option of a flexible electoral system... Finally, the project's main advantage is the higher level of security of the rights of candidates and voters' rights.

Since the project of the Electoral Code exists, any official government attempt to "drag" anything of the kind through the State Duma is going to bump against the need to compare the text to the project published below" [4].

"The analysis of the draft Electoral Code leads to the conclusion that the set goals of "democratizing" the electoral process have been achieved in many respects, and in case its proposals are implemented, there will be genuine guarantees of participation of citizens of the Russian Federation in managing the affairs of the state and solving issues of local importance... When considering the whole work done by the developers of the draft Electoral Code, one should give credit to the proper way of setting objectives, willingness to offer unconventional solutions to many theoretical and practical issues. However, there is also the matter of the developers underestimating the complexity of creating legislative texts, as well as the failure to fully meet the objectives set in the final draft" [36].

"The development and discussion of A.Lyubarev's draft Electoral Code is an extraordinary case in the lawmaking proceedings of present-day Russia. This is a rare example of the creation and active promotion of a draft law by the efforts of the public, the expert community, without the active participation of the conventional list of persons endowed with the right of legislative initiative...

Lyubarev's draft Electoral Code incorporated two virtues. Firstly, it was a project on the codification of the Russian electoral law, and secondly, the project envisaged a significant reform of the provisions of the Russian electoral law. Indeed, in such a case, the project was an attempt to adjust the values of Russian electoral law based on the greater degree of democracy and openness...

The project is focused on the maximum protection of such values as democracy, free elections, voting rights of citizens, i.e. constitutional values of the electoral process... The project is an integral document on systemic reform of the electoral law and electoral system of Russia, prepared with utmost professionalism...

In general, our criticisms of A.Lyubarev's draft Electoral Code concern the fact that it does not sufficiently overcome the shortcomings of Law No. 67-FZ "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in Referendums of Citizens of Russian Federation"...

The adoption of this draft law would greatly contribute to the development of the electoral process and electoral law. Further improvement and development of this project, as well as public support can ensure its status of a reference point, which will be positive for the improvement of the electoral system" [7].

Criticisms of the draft made in these publications will be addressed in the following sections of the paper.

There were also opinion-based journalism pieces penned by renowned experts. "I see the first and major advantage of the Code in the fact that not a single issue of Russian elections escaped the attention of its developers: each provision they propose is a response to an existing issue with a provision of the current legislation and/or its application. And in its totality, the Code "unblocks vessels" so to speak, if we imagine the electoral legislation as a circulatory system that "delivers" legitimate leaders to all bodies of state power and local self-government" [30].

Several opinions from public structures were also published (they are currently unavailable, but we will quote excerpts from the texts we saved). An exerpt from the comments of the Center for Problem Analysis, State and Management Design: "In general, the draft Code can be called a step forward in Russian electoral legislation. In addition to solving the task of codification, the proposed Code contains a number of necessary positive changes to the legislation in this area, including the expansion and detailing of observers' rights, public control over the activities of election commissions, regulation of information support for elections, and funding of election campaigns only at the expense of corresponding budgets. At the same time, the issues of ideology of the political process itself and the electoral system as its main component are left behind the scenes".

The conclusion prepared by the Russian Public Institute of Election Law and approved by the Council of the Civil Control Association of Nonprofit Organizations for the Protection of Electoral Rights was more restrained: "The idea of codifying Russia's electoral legislation, which currently includes several federal laws, has been discussed by the public since at least the mid-1990s and is generally worthy of support... At the same time, the general analysis of the draft code shows that the authors' main objective is not to codify the provisions of the current electoral legislation, which implies unification of several laws and elimination of contradictions and inconsistencies between them, but to create a code based on the authors' own ideas about the perfect electoral legislation... As a result, the presented version of the Draft Electoral Code of the Russian Federation should be revised while taking into account the above-mentioned considerations and the results of public discussion and cannot be recommended for adoption. At the same time, a number of provisions of the draft may be used in improving the electoral legislation of the Russian Federation".

The most negative opinion was issued by the Russian Foundation for Free Elections (RFFE): "It is necessary to point out the systemic contradiction of more than 50 provisions of the draft law to the modern legal policy of the President of the Russian Federation on reforming the electoral system and to the current federal laws on elections". Six years later, the author of this paper had the opportunity to state the following: "It was a question of what our draft provided for: the return of gubernatorial elections, single-seat constituencies in State Duma elections, the "Against All" vote, lowering the threshold, increasing the number of political parties, and a number of other similar changes. Today, six years later, many of our suggestions have been implemented. Admittedly, they have been implemented either partially or with major differences from what we proposed. Some things were not implemented at all, like the return of the electoral deposit or public observation. Nevertheless, we can no longer say that our proposals are in systemic contradiction with the president's policy" [22].

When in 2018 the RFFE (although the entire personnell changed by that time) ordered a new draft of the Electoral Code, its head Maksim Leskov claimed that our draft was outdated, because the electoral legislation had changed a lot in 10 years. In response, the author of this article remarked: "Yes, a lot has changed in our electoral legislation over the past 10 years (although, of course, not "all and everything"). In particular, there appeared the "municipal filter", the single voting day in September and a number of other innovations, which many people are now tired of and dream to get rid of them. Including the CEC chair. As a result, we can already visualize the first fork in the road. Either the draft Electoral Code will be developed on the basis of the innovations that have emerged in recent years, or it will be based on democratic standards, and all the opportunistic gibberish will be cast aside" [28]. The developers of the new project took the first path, and as a result their project faded into oblivion, as was documented in the first section of this paper.

We believe that the draft prepared in 2011 has retained its relevance, although, of course, it needs to be finalized, both in terms of codification and substance. In the subsequent sections, we will only address the most controversial legal issues that are mainly related to the structure of the Code.

The Electoral Code and referendum

Since the adoption of the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in Referendums of Citizens of Russian Federation" in 1997, the research community has been discussing the propriety of regulating elections and referendums by a single law. This issue was especially actively raised when the drafts of the Electoral Code appeared, which proposed to regulate referendum issues along with elections.

The discussion participants can be categorized into three groups. The first group believes that the issues of elections and referendum should be regulated by separate laws. The second group accepts that elections and referendum should be regulated by the same law or code, but believes that such a code cannot be called "electoral": it requires a different name, such as "Code on Elections and Referendums" (as in the MSU 2019 draft). The third group (which includes the author of this article) believes that elections and referendum are best regulated by a single code, and such a code may well be called "electoral".

The paper by Vladimir Podshivalov [36] may be considered an example of the first point of view. It states: "Despite certain elements of similarity, elections and referendum are two different forms of direct democracy, with different objectives, and therefore different appointment procedures, participant line-up, specific featured of preparation procedures, and fundamentally different legal consequences".

To be sure, elections and referendums are not identical forms of democracy. However, there is a reason why they are mentioned side by side in the Constitution of the Russian Federation: in Article 3 they are connected by the conjunction "and", and in Article 32 one and the same sentence speaks about the right of citizens to elect representatives and also to participate in referendum.

Indeed, elections and referendums have different appointment procedures and different legal consequences. But that is where the fundamental differences end. There are some special features when it comes to preparation procedures, but here there are already more similarities than differences. As for the different participant line-ups, it is impossible to agree.

The basic procedures and organizational foundations of the electoral and referendum processes are similar, and in many respects identical. Moreover, the active suffrage of citizens and their right to vote in a referendum are identical.

In order to be able to safely decouple the legislation on elections and referendums, three conditions are necessary: first, to ban the combination of elections with referendums; second, to create a different organizational procedure for referendums (i.e., a system of referendum commissions, unrelated to the system of election commissions); third, to create a separate system of registration of referendum participants, unrelated to the system of voter registration. Obviously, it is impractical to implement all of this.

And since elections and referendums are organized by the same commissions and the same voter registration system is used for them, the legislative regulation of these two institutions should be common for elections and referendums. However, there remains an alternative possibility: to stipulate these institutions in the law regulating elections, and in another law regulating referendums while referencing the first one. But such a solution does not seem optimal to us.

First, the regulation should be consistent and uniform. For example, a group of referendum participants has the right to appoint a member with consultative capacity to the commission. If we stipulate this right only in the law on referendum, there will be a loophole in the law on elections. One more example: we would have to provide that a referendum commission retains its powers until the end of the referendum campaign. But if it is only spelled out in the referendum law, it will contradict the election law. The same applies to the provisions on the dismissolution of commissions.

Second, if elections and referendums are conducted by the same commissions, and even more so if they are concurrent, it is necessary to synchronize election and referendum procedures. Otherwise we are going to end up utterly confused. Of course, one can try to make sure that the procedures are uniform while having two different laws. But this is more difficult than in the case of a single piece of legislation.

As has already been stated, there is a common opinion that if the Code includes provisions on referendum, it should not be named something else instead of "Electoral" [2: 193–194]. For instance, Yevgeny Kudryashov [16] proposes to create a Code of Democracy of the Russian Federation. Such a name is even less appropriate, since democracy is not limited to elections, referendums and other forms of voting.

We believe that the desire for terminological purity should not be a dominating factor in this case, and there is no good reason why the adjective "electoral" could not be used in the law regulating referendum issues. This adjective, in our opinion, leaves much more room for interpretation than the one related exclusively to elections. It should be noted that for two decades already two Russian regions (Belgorod and Vladimir Oblasts) use regional laws called "Electoral Code", which regulate the issues of regional and local referendums.

In 2018, the author of this article surveyed experts who specialize on elections and election law, and the questions he asked included a question about the name for the code. 82 experts were in favor of the "Electoral Code" option, 18 in favor of the "Code on Elections and Referendum" option, and 10 experts favored other options.

The next fork has to do with the interpretation of paragraph "c" of Article 84 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, according to which the President "shall appoint a referendum in accordance with the procedure established by federal constitutional law". According to one interpretation, a federal constitutional law should regulate all issues related to the initiation, appointment, and conduct of a nationwide referendum. Another interpretation suggests that a federal constitutional law should regulate only the issues of appointing a nationwide referendum and closely related to this aspect the issues of its initiation (and possibly also the issues of its entry into force). The rest of the referendum issues, according to this interpretation, should be regulated by federal law.

The dispute on this topic arose at the State Duma meeting on November 23, 1994, when the presidential draft of the federal constitutional law "On the Referendum of the Russian Federation" and the Yabloko drafts of the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation and the federal constitutional law on the procedure for appointing a referendum of the Russian Federation were considered. In his co-report, Sergei Zenkin made reference to a number of conclusions: "The conclusion of the legal department of the State Duma apparatus, which is available to our committee, explicitly states: all referendum issues should be set out in one law. Similarly, the so-called twofold or split version of the legal regulation of the institution of referendum is criticized in the conclusion from the Institute of State and Law of the Russian Academy of Sciences". He further referenced the "method of analogy" as well, proving that Yabloko's "appellee's" interpretation was erroneous and dangerous. Grigory Yavlinsky and Viktor Sheinis, who spoke on behalf of the collective of developers and the Yabloko faction, refrained from discussing this issue at this meeting, firstly because election issues were more important to them, and, secondly because it was obvious that they would not get support there [46: 660–717].

When the discussion of the new draft Electoral Code began in 2008, Viktor Sheinis reaffirmed his commitment to the previous concept: "Anything that is unrelated to the appointment, and I would probably introduce a procedure to summarize the results. That is, not a vote count, but a procedure for establishing the results. These are all objects of regulation of the federal constitutional law, everything else is transferred to the text of the code". Oleg Kayunov expressed a similar opinion [34: 36, 37].

Today, 29 years later, we believe that the Yabloko interpretation that informed their draft Election Code, and subsequently our draft, was the correct one. This is evidenced by the entire experience of work on electoral and referendum legislation.

As was indicated above, election and referendum procedures are similar. They are conducted by the same system of election commissions, which requires synchronization of many changes to the electoral and referendum legislation. At the same time, amending the Federal Constitutional Law requires a qualified majority, which may result in discrepancies in the regulation of electoral and referendum procedures, as was the case between 1997 and 2004.

It is not only about the system of election commissions and voter registration, which should be regulated in an absolutely identical manner, not only about voting and counting procedures, where the similarities between elections and referendums are most obvious. There are many similarities in the regulation of both campaigning and funding. Even the processes for collecting and verifying signatures in support of candidate nomination and referendum initiative are largely identical. And the situation when the rules for collecting signatures in support of the initiative of a nationwide referendum differed from the rules applied in elections, as well as in regional and local referendums, led to a number of failures in organizing several nationwide referendums in 1999-2000 [26].

We therefore believe that issues relating to commissions, voter registration, signature collection and verification, campaigning, funding, voting and counting should be addressed in a uniform manner for all elections and referendums, and within the framework of one code. Only the issues of initiation and appointment of the all-Russian referendum, its legal force and the procedure of entry into force of the decision adopted at it should be left for the Federal Constitutional Law.

The survey conducted in 2018 also contained a question about the regulation of the referendum. 90 experts preferred the option "Limit the subject matter of the federal constitutional law on referendum to the issues of initiation and appointment of the referendum, as well as the issue of the legal force of the decision adopted at the referendum; all other issues (the procedure for collecting signatures, the procedure for informing voters and campaigning, the procedure for funding, the procedure for voting and counting votes) should be regulated by the Code". Only 18 spoke in favor of the option "To retain the current provision, under which all issues of organization and holding of the all-Russian referendum are regulated in the Federal Constitutional Law 'On the Referendum of the Russian Federation'".

The only disagreement between Viktor Sheinis and the author of this paper with regard to the regulation of the issues of holding an all-Russian referendum is related to the structure of the Code. In the Yabloko draft, the Special Part contained a section called "Conducting a referendum of the Russian Federation". In our draft, all referendum questions are included in the General Part. We believe that, since all special issues regarding the all-Russian referendum are addressed in the federal constitutional law, and those regarding regional and local referendums are addressed in the law of a constituent entity of the Russian Federation, the Code should only regulate general issues regarding referendums at all levels. And we have included these issues in the General Part of the Code in a special section called "Referendum Process".

Structure of the Electoral Code

The main objectives of codification are to make the relevant branch of legislation clear, usable and consistent. The solution to all of these objectives depends primarily on a well-designed code structure.

Thus, speaking about the clarity of the law, it should be recognized that it is not only the clarity of individual provisions that is necessary. It is important that the law is easy to navigate, to find the right provisions, to see the relationship between different provisions. In particular, the clarity of the law should be ensured so that each subject of the electoral process can easily understand which chapters and articles to read, and which ones not to read in a given situation.

It is also important to avoid overly long articles, overly long phrases, to avoid combining several norms into a single paragraph and even more so into a single sentence. It is also advisable to replace lengthy terminology with shorter terminology.

A characteristic feature of the current electoral legislation is the repetition of provisions. Almost all provisions of the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights..." are repeated in special laws, that is, federal laws on State Duma and Presidential elections and regional laws. This makes things troublesome for law enforcers: they constantly have to take into account the identical or closely-worded provisions of the two laws. In the best case, when the provisions are absolutely identical, they simply have to quote both; in the worst case, there is a contradiction between the two provisions.

We believe there is only one way to avoid repetition of provisions: by clearly distinguishing between peremptory and dispositive provisions. In this case, there will be no need to duplicate peremptory provisions either in the Special Part of the Code or in regional laws: these provisions will be easily identifiable and will have direct effect. Consequently, only those provisions dealing with special regulation could be included in regional laws, and regional laws would become more concise, like the chapters of the Special Part of the Code.

It is also necessary to distinguish between substantive and procedural provisions. Substantive provisions are guidelines that are important for all electoral contestants, and they should be considered as early as in the campaign preparations. Procedural provisions play an important role in the relevant stages of an election campaign. It is also important to emphasize the timing of electoral activities, as these norms are essential for campaign planning. Ideally, there should be designated articles for the different provisions. This also leads to articles becoming more consise. Vadim Vinogradov was among those who emphasized the importance of separating substantive and procedural, general and special provisions when discussing the issues of electoral legislation [49].

When it is said that it is hard to work with a "doorstopper" or two books (meaning two laws), it should be kept in mind that the issue can be easily resolved in practice. There is no obstacle to publishing two laws together under the same cover, nor is there any obstacle to publishing an incomplete law or code (which is done quite commonly). For example, if there are regional elections, a book containing the General Part of the Electoral Code (without the section "Referendum Process") and the regional law could be published for its participants. When it comes to digital texts, however, it is even more simple.

There are only two chapters in the Special Part of our draft Code: one on the presidential election and the other on State Duma election. This is what makes our project different from the other three. For example, the CPRF 2022 draft has four chapters in the special part that deal with regional and municipal elections. However, all of them are extremely brief, and their contents could well have been included in the General Part [27]. The same four chapters are contained in the 2019 MSU draft, but they are more detailed, which inevitably leads to overlapping provisions.

In the course of the discussion of the draft, Oleg Kayunov (a longtime associate of Viktor Sheinis) proposed to split the Code not into two, but into three parts: general, special and specialized [34: 36]. Although this proposal was not implemented, it is quite an acceptable one. Indeed, there is something of a special nature in the General Part of the Draft Code: "Chapter 15. Special features of voting, counting of votes and establishing election results under different electoral systems, technical means of voting and counting of votes" and "Section 4. The referendum process". Therefore, it makes some sense to set them apart into a different part.

The issue of elections to the Federation Council arose in the discussion of the draft. For example, the Yabloko draft contained the corresponding section. We had to abandon the idea of including the election of the upper house in the Code because of the provision of Article 95(2) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, according to which the Federation Council includes representatives from the legislative (representative) and executive bodies of state power. For example, the author of this paper expressed the opinion that any particular election option would either clearly contradict Article 95(2) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation or it would embody an imitation of elections. During the discussion, Viktor Sheinis admitted that he did not know how to solve this problem, but hoped that an acceptable solution could be found. However, no one was able to propose such an option, and the elections to the Federation Council were not included in our draft [34: 45, 53–54].

Another difference between our project and the other three was the addition of the "Electoral Systems" chapter in the General Part. Electoral systems (in the narrow sense of the term) are an essential component of electoral law. The choice of the electoral system determines the content of quite a few sections of the electoral law: outlining the borders of electoral constituencies, nomination and registration of candidates and candidate lists, the contents of the ballot, the procedure for voting, the procedure for counting votes, the procedure for establishing the election results, and so on [20].

However, historically, the concept of "electoral system" has not been defined in Russian federal electoral legislation at all. As a result, this term was defined in the Federal Law "On the General Principles of Organization of Local Self-Governance in the Russian Federation"; this law is essentially how the term found its way into most regional election laws. At the same time, the definition itself turned out to be inadequate [24]. The provisions describing the electoral system turned out to be scattered throughout the text of the law, so reading reading the laws on elections does not create a clear picture of the electoral system.

Our project proposes 8 types of electoral systems, describes them in sufficient detail, and indicates which specific system may be used for each election. Within this framework, regions and municipal entities are free to choose electoral systems and set the individual parameters as they see fit.

Some structural solutions were subjected to criticism [7; 36]. These aspects can be discussed at the final stage of development of the Code.

The Electoral Code and electoral federalism

The first "framework" law, the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation", was created in 1994 as a reaction to violations of electoral rights in regional and local elections [5]. The concept was authored by Aleksandr Postnikov, who believed that the functions of federal legislation with regard to regional and municipal elections should be limited to the protection of the foundations of the constitutional system and the fundamental rights of citizens, while the establishment of specific electoral procedures and a specific pattern of the electoral process should fall on the regional legislator [38; 39]. Consequently, the 1994 "framework" law was quite succinct, giving regional legislators quite a lot of room to regulate regional and local elections. However, electoral rights violations persisted even after the "framework" law was adopted [38: 80–96]. As a result, a new Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in Referendums of Citizens of Russian Federation" was adopted in 1997 with the active involvement of Viktor Sheinis. The law prescribed many electoral procedures, which inevitably reduced the scope of regional regulation. Aleksandr Postnikov called this law "not a framework law that establishes the basic guarantees of electoral rights, but an instructional law that thoroughly regulates all stages of the electoral process" [39].

That said, Aleksandr Postnikov [39] also pointed out that the electoral code already exists in essence, just under a different name. Sergei Knyazev also observed that the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in Referendums of Citizens of Russian Federation" serves as a codified legislative act [13: 159–168] and may well qualify as an electoral code [14]. We can agree with these statements only with a significant reservation: the said law is an attempt to create a codified act, but not exactly a successful one, as our analysis shows [23]. At the same time, Aleksandr Postnikov later remarked that this law "actually plays the role of an electoral code of the country, but it is not quite effective in this capacity" [37]. However, it is more correct to claim that this law "actually represents a transitional act to a new form of electoral legislation" [2: 197].

According to Aleksandr Postnikov, with the adoption of the new "framework" law of 2002, "the correlation between federal and regional electoral legislation shifted to a fundamentally new plane" [37]. Nevertheless, starting from 2005-2006 the federal legislation began to further narrow the scope of election regulation by regional laws [50: 223, 239].

It has been suggested that the concept of legislative control in the electoral sphere should be reformed towards adopting an act like the Fundamentals of Legislation of the Russian Federation on Elections and Referendums with shifting the focus of regulating the elections of the government bodies of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, local self-government bodies, referendums of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation and local referendums to the sphere of regional legislation [8].­

Sergei Knyazev voiced the opinion that the federal legislator actually monopolized the right of lawmaking in electoral relations, and the list of powers of the subjects of the Russian Federation in this area has been reduced to zero [14]. This statement cannot be perceived as anything other than an exaggeration. Within the "framework" law, Viktoriya Viskulova found about 180 references to the possible regulation of legal relations in electoral context by the laws of the subjects of the Russian Federation [50: 239–244]. However, these provision lack intrinsic homogeneity due to the common criterion of attributing relevant issues to additional guarantees of citizens' rights by the federal legislator. Only a part of these provisions is designed to take into account local and historical characteristics of the regions. There is no system, no clear grounds for attributing this or that issue to the own jurisdiction of a constituent entity of the Russian Federation. По неясным причинам близкие по сути нормы регулируются либо федеральным, либо региональным законом. At the same time, some issues that are left to the discretion of legislative (representative) bodies of state power of constituent entities of the Russian Federation are of nation-wide significance [50: 245].

We should add here that it is in the most important issues related to the electoral system (in the narrow sense of the term) that the freedom of the regional legislator is virtually limitless. How the legislator uses that freedom is an entirely different matter. One region after another introduced the Imperiali quota for seat allocation. The Imperiali quota violates the principle of proportionality, but none of the regions thought of introducing the quite acceptable and widespread Sainte-Laguë method [20; 25]. More and more regions are introducing harsh and unwarranted requirements for splitting party lists into territorial groups [18: 70–79].

At the same time, the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights..." de facto greatly restricts the number of options available to the regional legislator. The nature of these restrictions varies. Some restrictions stem from the fact that the Federal Law prescribes procedures based on a specific electoral system, and they are simply unfit for any other system. For instance, neither regions nor municipal entities are allowed to apply preferential election systems, even if they really want to, because these systems do not comply with the procedures established by the Federal Law. And the open lists, strictly speaking, are inconsistent with the Federal Law.

The second type of restrictions arises from the fact that the desire to introduce a new electoral system is countered by the need to outline detailed procedures for that system. The region simply may not have the professionals who are capable of accomplishing this. But even if it does have such professionals, there is always the danger that the ambiguous language of the Federal Law will render these procedures inconsistent with the federal legislation. That is why the region usually dares to experiment only upon gaining the approval of the federal supervisors. More often than not, experiments happen under direct orders of said supervisors. In such a case, should we really be surprised that, despite the diversity of regions, what we see in practice is regional laws mostly copying the same (and not the best) examples? In this manner, the unitarist practices refute the quasi-federalist theory.

We mentioned that the first version of the "framework" law emerged spontaneously in 1994 as a reaction to violations of citizens' electoral rights in regional and municipal elections. This is why the concept of "guarantees of electoral rights" was included in the title of the law, and the law itself was to a certain extent aimed at protecting the electoral rights of citizens. However, as was observed by Viktor Pylin, the contents of the "framework" law originally disagreed with its name [42]. Aleksandr Kokotov remarked that the "framework" law combines two different issues in a single act: general principles of elections and guarantees of their implementation [15].

Based on what has been outlined above, we believe that the concept of framework regulation needs to be changed. This means, on the one hand, to give the regions an actual range of options, in particular, different electoral systems, and, on the other hand, to define the procedures clearly so that the regional governing bodies would not have an opportunity to violate the rights of citizens and limit the rights of local self-government.

At the same time, we rely on such an understanding of the provisions of the Constitution, which allows quite strict regulation of election procedures by the federal legislation. According to the Constitution, the Russian Federation (Article 71) is charged with the regulation and protection of civil rights and freedoms, and the Russian Federation and its constituent entities (Article 72) are jointly charged with the protection of human and civil rights and freedoms. Our practice shows that the protection of the electoral rights of citizens of the Russian Federation cannot be effective if the regional legislator is given freedom in establishing electoral procedures: the procedures that violate the electoral rights of citizens are bound to appear in such a case.

By emphasizing the guarantees of electoral rights, we mean only their protection. As for the issue of regulating electoral rights, it remains virtually out of sight. It is obvious that "regulation" includes not only protection but also necessary restrictions on rights. Certain restrictions on the rights of citizens during the election campaign are inevitable, both because of the competitive nature of elections, which makes it impossible to protect the rights of some subjects of the electoral process without restricting the rights of others, and because of the transient nature of the campaign, when violated rights are sometimes difficult to restore even after a few days. In accordance with Part 3 of Article 55 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, any restrictions on the rights of citizens may be established only by federal law and only to the extent necessary. Consequently, the task of the "framework" federal law is to establish not only the basic guarantees of citizens' electoral rights, but also an exhaustive list of their restrictions.

The current "framework" law certainly contains many restrictions on citizens' rights, but it does so in a "bashful" manner, without emphasizing that they are restrictions, and even often passing them off as guarantees of citizens' rights. Hence, there is uncertainty as to what are guarantees of electoral rights and whether the provisions of special laws are "additional" guarantees.

At the same time, we quite agree with Sergei Knyazev's thesis that "although necessary as a matter of fact, no considerations of making electoral procedures uniform can serve as a justification for the absolute universalization of electoral law" [14]. However, the goal of creating the Electoral Code is not to strip the regional legislator of the last opportunities to regulate elections held in a given constituent entity of the Federation, but to make the regulation more high-quality, eliminate existing and possible contradictions and allow the legislator at each level to regulate exactly those issues that it can regulate best.

From this perspective, it is expedient to regulate most electoral procedures at the federal level. First, they typically have no region-specific characteristics whatsoever. Second, many procedures involve organizations whose operations are regulated at the federal level (media, law enforcement agencies, credit organizations). Third, the need to unify electoral procedures is tied to the practice of combining elections and to the professionalization of election commissions. Fourth, writing procedural rules is a complex legal operation that requires advanced skills and a certain amount of experience; practice shows that such experience is often lacking across the regions. Finally, and most importantly, the electoral procedures themselves largely determine the exercise of electoral rights.

At the same time, regional legislators should be allowed the freedom of choice on many fundamental issues, including those related to the electoral system (in the narrow sense). Our draft Code clearly states which issues (and to what extent) should be regulated by regional laws and which issues should be regulated by the charters of municipal entities. In particular, regions and municipal entities are provided with a wide choice of electoral systems, and for each system, procedures are prescribed to guarantee the electoral rights of citizens.

Viktor Sheinis expressed support for this approach: "Essentially, I agree with Arkady Yefimovich that the Code should not leave too much room for the creativity of law enforcers. It should contain a range of options to choose from, but not for rulemaking at various levels. This requires ample elaboration of the rules of the law". He went on to articulate very aptly the principle inherent in the concept of the Code: freedom of choice, not freedom of creativity [34: 80, 100].


In summary, the codification of electoral legislation has been under discussion for 30 years. Both the State Duma and the CEC of Russia recognized the expediency of codification. Four draft codes were created. However, we are still as far from solving this issue as we were 30 years ago. And maybe even further away now than we were then.

Not too long ago, the Kommersant newspaper quoted a statement by Pavel Krasheninnikov, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on State Construction and Legislation: "At this stage of our society's development, when electoral legislation is boiling and constantly changing, it is impossible to codify legal norms. What is typically codified are decades-old rules. We don't have that here and aren't expecting it anytime soon, and not because someone doesn't want it to happen or because someone is bad like that — the links are unstable. You cannot build a proper house in the middle of a raging river. The Code should be a substantial and enduring document" [47].

We see that such justification became a pattern of sorts. This was the argument made in 1994. In 2000–2002, the CEC leadership believed that the legislation was about to become stable and then it would be possible to codify it. But then, with the active participation of the CEC leadership, it turned into something that is "boiling and constantly changing" yet again.

There are now 20 codes in force in Russia. Hardly anyone (including Krasheninnikov) would take it upon themselves to claim that they all incorporate "decades-old rules". So why does the electoral legislation require a stricter approach?

Of course, Krasheninnikov is right about one thing: "the electoral legislation is boiling and constantly changing". But is it really because the "links are unstable"? No, I believe the point is something else entirely: the party to which Krasheninnikov belongs is always looking for something else to do to ensure its own permanence.

In the meantime, election participants (parties, candidates, members of election commissions, election lawyers, political technologists) have been moaning and demanding stable election legislation for a long time. Then again, the opponents, such as Krasheninnikov, usually say: stabilization first, codification second. Sadly, we see that this is only a convenient myth. Until we move on to codification, there will be no stabilization, as Yavlinsky pointed out 29 years ago. Krasheninnikov himself actually confirmed this, saying that "no such thing is expected in the near future". That is because they do not want the legislation to be stable. "The links are unstable" is yet another myth. To be more precise, they are doing everything they can to keep them unstable.

Of course, codification does not guarantee stability of legislation. But, firstly, the code will be psychologically more difficult to amend than the current laws, which have already been amended over a hundred times. Second, it depends largely on the quality of codification. If in the process of working on the Code the loopholes and contradictions are eliminated and the Code turns out to be clear, coherent and convincing, if, finally, not only its authors but also broad circles of "users" recognize that the electoral legislation has become optimal, then its stability can be ensured.

Many states are facing problems with codifying electoral legislation [51]. This is a job that requires not only quality legal expertise, but also political will. Quality legal expertise is there to use. Political will has been severely lacking for the past 30 years.

At the same time, political will is required not only to draft and adopt the Electoral Code, but also to change the situation with law enforcement. Although there was a period in our history (late 1990s - early 2000s) when legislation and law enforcement moved in opposite directions, changes in legislation and shifts in law enforcement are more frequently interconnected than not [21]. Any loopholes and contradictions in the legislation can be and usually are used by the incumbent government to create advantages for its candidates and in fact to ensure its own permanence.

Consequently, the main issue is to change the direction of the country's political development towards the restoration of democracy. In this case, one of the main objectives is going to be the democratization of the electoral legislation. And the best solution to this objective will be to create an Electoral Code, which is of high quality legally and in terms of content, and which is aimed at ensuring and protecting the electoral rights of citizens and embodying the principles of people's power.

Received 16.08.2023, revision received 16.10.2023.


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