Book Chapter

Russian Election Law

The Russian Election Law

The Russian Parliament consists of two houses: the lower house called the State Duma consisting of 450 deputies; and the upper house known as the Federation Council, which is made up of 178 representatives, two from each of Russia''s 89 regions. The parliamentary elections on December 17th will only be for the State Duma. The formation of the next Federation Council is still being debated in Moscow.

The 450 seats in the Russian State Duma will be divided into 225 deputies from single mandate districts and 225 party list deputies. When a Russian voter goes into the election booth, he will vote for both a party and an individual candidate.

The election to the single mandate districts will be much like the US Congressional elections. A candidate will win with a plurality of the votes no matter how small that may be. This is much criticized, but no run-off system will be in place for these elections. There are 2700 candidates running for the single district seats which averages to 12 candidates per district.

The party list election is more complicated. Each party submits to the Central Election Commission (CEC) an election list of up to 270 candidates. The list contains 12 candidates on the "federal list." These 12 spots are the first places to be allocated. The rest of the list is not in a numerical order such as 12 --> 270. Instead the candidates are listed by region. The purpose of the regional lists is to avoid having a Moscow-centric Duma. In reality, many parties have farmed out their Moscow activists to regional lists. There are 5675 party list candidates. A candidate may run on a party list and in a single mandate race simultaneously. If he wins the district race, his spot on the party list will go to another party member.

After the election, the list vote will be tabulated nationally. Any party clearing the 5% hurdle will gain list seats in the new Duma. The number of seats will be divided proportionally among the parties. For example, if a party gets 9% of the national popular vote, they will get 9% of the 225 party list seats. The number of seats might be exaggerated if only a few parties clear the 5% barrier. Small parties would effectively give their seats to the larger parties. In our example, the party would receive 20 seats (9% of 225 = 20.25).

The party would distribute the first 12 seats to its federal list, leaving 8 seats to distribute among the regional party lists. The regional list seats are distributed to those regions, where the party campaigned with a regional list of candidates, and where the party performed best according to a mathematical formula found in Articles 62 and 70 of the election law.

According to the International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) which works directly with the CEC, the election list formula is:


Total # of votes polled by the party in regions where it ran list candidates
Number of seats awarded (-12 federal seats), in our example this would be 8
This number is then divided into the number of votes the parties received in each region. This will show where the party did best and determine where the seats should be awarded.

An example will help: Suppose Yabloko ran list candidates in three regions: A, B, and C. Yabloko gained the following number of votes in each region:
Region A: 150,000
Region B: 75,000
Region C: 300,000
Adding up all numbers Yabloko received 525,000 votes. This was enough for 20 seats. The party gives 12 to the federal list and the remaining 8 are to be divided between regions A, B, and C, where Yabloko ran a federal list. Using the above formula:
A+B+C = 525,000
8 seats to be distributed
This equals 65,625. Each time Yabloko receives 65,625 votes in a region, that region will acquire a Yabloko seat from the Yabloko regional list.
Region A: 150,000 divided by 65,625 = 2.28 or 2 seats
Region B: 75,000 divided by 65,625 = 1.16 or 1 seat.
Region C:300,000 divided by 65,625 = 4.5 or 5 seats.
Total = 8 seats
Thus, the eight available list seats have been allocated to the regional Yabloko lists. The first two of Yabloko''s regional troika (the "troika" is a party''s top three list candidates in the regions) will go to the Duma from Region A, only the first in Region B, and the entire troika plus two additional Yabloko regional list members will go from Region C.

According to the election law, regions do not have a set number of guaranteed federal list candidates. Suppose that two parties are well organized in one region, say Volgograd, while no party is organized in Stavropol. This will indicate Stavropol will have no one representing it from federal lists, while Volgograd might have eight or nine list candidates plus their single mandate district representatives. If a region has disorganized parties it will have only single mandate representatives in the Duma.

In order for the election to be valid, 25% of the Russian electorate must turn out to vote. If at least 25% of the electorate turns out nation-wide, but certain regions do not clear the 25% requirement, single members district elections in those regions will be invalid and a by-election will be held. However, the party list votes in that region are still legitimate and parties may take members off that region''s party list.

In sum, the single member district seats are vulnerable to regional 25% requirements, while the party list seats are available nationwide once the national 25% requirement is met.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: SDI Staff. “Russian Election Law.” .