Voting Starts in Presidential Election

Early voting for the presidential election started Friday, with the first ballots cast in remote outposts such as lighthouses, vessels at sea and settlements above the Arctic Circle.

About 200,000 of the country's 109 million registered voters can take part in the early vote, which will last until March 1, a member of the Central Elections Commission, Yelena Dubrovina, said in televised remarks on Friday.

The rest of the country will vote on March 2. Four candidates are participating in the presidential race, and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is expected to win easily in the first round, after President Vladimir Putin named him as his own preferred candidate. Of the 200,000 voters eligible to vote early, about 140,000 will vote in Russia; the rest will cast ballots at Russian embassies and consulates abroad.

By law, the date when early voting starts is determined by the legislatures of the regions where the voting is held. The results will be kept secret until March 2, when they will be added to the general vote count in the respective regions.

During the State Duma elections in December, one of the more than 2,000 early polling stations announced results earlier than allowed by law. This happened when the captain of the Pallada frigate reported the results by radio soon after the sailors had voted.

Dubrovina said the early vote would cost about 100 million rubles ($4 million), or 600 rubles ($24) per ballot.

"No question it is expensive. But, according to the Russian Constitution, every Russian citizen has the right to take part in elections, and the state is obliged to guarantee this right," she said.