The draft Electoral Code and the State Duma's double standards
The leader of the project to establish the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation has provided commentary regarding the situation with the passage of the draft Electoral Code in the State Duma.
Approximately one month ago, on 29 February, the draft Electoral Code of the Russian Federation was introduced to the State Duma along with the draft federal law “On the Enactment of the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation.” Five A Just Russia deputies introduced the draft. After that, the standard procedure was launched: the Chairman of the Duma sent the drafts to the Committee on Constitutional Law and State Building. The committee then consulted the legal department.
The response of the legal department was then posted on the State Duma website: the draft Electoral Code stipulates that expenses will be covered by the federal budget. Then came the Committee’s decision: a proposal to the Council of the State Duma that the draft should be returned to its authors for failure to comply with the requirements Article 104, Part three of the Russian Constitution.
In reality, this Constitutional provision on bills provides that bills expecting expenses to be covered by the federal budget may be introduced only upon the conclusion of the Russian Government. However, there is a lack of clarity on how to determine whether the draft foresees such expenses, and whether this applies only to the budget for the current year, and the provision can thus be interpreted in different ways.
Naturally, we have discussed this problem with the deputies. We reached the conclusion that if we included in the draft federal law “On the Enactment of the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation” the enactment of the very few provisions that require increased spending on elections for the next year, the government’s conclusion would not be required. After all, in our view the drafters of the Constitution were motivated by the logic of preventing imbalance in the current budget. And next year’s budget naturally must take into account laws that have already been adopted.
However, the legal department and the Committee begged to differ. In the response, reference was made to the provisions of the Code that repeat the current legislative provisions, as well as a provision on the need for transparent ballot boxes: that the old boxes would need to be replaced. This replacement, however, has already been provided for in a CEC decision, and this decision was already largely implemented prior to 4 March. It is amusing that in response to the draft federal law “On the Enactment of the Electoral Code of the Russian Federation,” the legal department held that everything was in order; there is no need to obtain the conclusion of the government.
One could find this acceptable—attributing it to differences in interpretation of the Constitution—if there were no other examples of Duma functionaries having behaved differently. Article 104 of the Russian Constitution creates no exceptions for anyone, including the president. Still, we know that very recently the president introduced to the Duma the draft federal law, “On Elections of Deputies to the State Duma of the Russian Federation.” This law specifically states: “The premises in which meetings are held by the electoral commissions, and also the voting premises, as a rule, shall be equipped with video surveillance and video broadcasts in accordance with the procedures established by the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation.” It is clear to anyone that this provision provides for expenditure from the federal budget.
The draft was received by the Duma on 16 February. Already by 17 February, the Committee on Constitutional Law and State Building—without any inquiries for the legal department—made the decision to consider the draft in the context of Article 104 of the Constitution. Nevertheless, on 28 February the conclusion of the government was received. On the Duma’s website, the file containing this conclusion takes up 22 megabytes, although the conclusion itself contains only four short paragraphs. And the main conclusion: the adoption of this law will not require additional budgetary allocations from the federal budget.
Fine; we can write that off on the basis of trembling in awe before the president. But there is another recent example. Two years ago, one deputy introduced to the Duma draft federal law # 347981–5, “On Introducing Amendments to Particular Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation In Order to Improve the Mechanisms for Ensuring the Electoral Rights of Citizens.” It proposed for the introduction of special equipment in order to accommodate visually impaired voters. Specifically, it sought to provide special stencils that would allow visually impaired voters to fill out their own ballots using Braille, and to include large-print and braille polling materials on bulletin boards in polling stations. However, the legal department did not mention that it would be necessary to obtain the Russian government’s conclusion of the bill in accordance with Article 104, Part three of the Constitution.
Here we find the double standards.
I will add one more nuance. It is impossible to determine from the election laws how much money should be spent on the electoral campaign. The CEC recently approved a financial report the last State Duma elections. The main items of expenditure were the compensation and additional wages for the Precinct Election Commissions (PECs.) These items were allocated 4.3 billion out of a total 6.9 billion rubles.
Neither the number of PECs, nor the number of members with decisive voting rights are directly derived from the legal norms. The law merely establishes a framework allowing for a liberal variance of these figures. And the compensation standards for commission members are generally unregulated by the law. Thus the total cost of the campaign is almost completely independent from what is written in the election laws.
In connection with all of the above, I cannot regard the actions of the legal department and the Committee on Constitutional Law and State Building as anything other than a lack of willingness to consider the draft Electoral Code.