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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rules and Ambiguities Of Presidential Election

Strictly speaking, Russia will have been without a president for four days by the time voters cast their ballots Sunday at some 95,000 polling stations across the country.

President Boris Yeltsin's term in the Kremlin expired June 12, according to the Constitution, but the law also says that his powers are automatically extended until a new president is sworn in.

In most respects, this is a distinction without a difference. But it does open the way for ambiguity in the extremely unlikely event that anything should happen to Yeltsin before the elections are over. Would Yeltsin be replaced in his capacity as president -- or as candidate? The procedures that follow are quite different.

Robert Zolin, a spokesman at the Central Election Commission, said it was clear that Yeltsin, as president, would be replaced in such a case by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and that elections would be postponed for three months. But there is enough ambiguity that this could become a point of dispute should it ever arise.

And what would happen if "none of the above" wins in the second round? In this case, neither side wins, the election is declared void and the Federation Council schedules a second election within four months.

But according to Michael McFaul, a senior analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, there is some debate in the Central Election Commission as to whether a candidate must be held at fault for such an outcome. If so, the law stipulates only that the candidates whose actions served as the basis for declaring the vote void may not be nominated again.

Some have interpreted that to mean both contenders are disqualified from the next election.

"It's ambiguous," said McFaul. "There's been no decree explaining exactly what that means."

Such glitches are deep into the realm of the hypothetical, however. Most of the election-day rules are straightforward.

The polls will open on election day at 8 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. local time. Given Russia's vast distances and 11 time zones, this means that the first ballots will be cast in the Far East while voters in Moscow are still pondering their decision Saturday evening. No results can be broadcast until the last station closes in the isolated Baltic pocket of Kaliningrad at 11 p.m. Moscow time. But by then, some preliminary results will already be available from the Far East, and an exit poll also plans to have results out quickly.

Some of the first voters -- Russians living in the Arctic Circle, serving at sea on naval vessels or herding reindeer in remote regions -- have already cast their ballots.

The ballot paper for June 16 will contain 11 names, one of which, the communist Aman Tuleyev, will have to be scratched out by local election commission workers because he dropped out of the race on June 12, too late for the ballot to be reprinted.

There will also be a 12th, and perhaps uncomfortably popular, candidate on the ballot called "none of the above."

On arrival at the polling stations, voters must present a passport or identity card which will be matched up with the list of eligible voters in the area. After registering their presence by signature, voters will be given a ballot.

For those unable to come to polling stations, the local election commissions have mobile ballot boxes that will be brought to the voters -- a system that has drawn many accusations of vote-fixing in the past because the mobile ballot boxes spend so much time away from the scrutiny of observers.

At 10 p.m., members of the election commission will start counting the votes at their station, compiling a protocol of the results once they are done and passing that on to the territorial election commission. Here the votes from all area polling stations are tabulated and passed to the Central Election Commission , or CEC, in Moscow.

By law, the CEC must complete its count within 15 days and publish the results within three days after the count is complete. This time, however, the CEC has promised to publish the results early.

An electronic voting system called "Vybory" will be in place for the presidential election and will provide a parallel vote count. This will be made public as soon as the last polls close. But CEC spokesmen have cautioned that these results are only preliminary and have no formal validity.

Minimum voter turnout is 50 percent, as opposed to 25 percent for parliamentary elections. If fewer than half of the country's roughly 107 million eligible voters go to the polls June 16, fresh elections must be held within four months.

To win in the first round, a candidate must get 50 percent plus one of the votes cast. If there are more than two candidates on the ballot and none gets 50 percent, a runoff will take place no later than 15 days after the results of the first round are published.

With 10 candidates competing on June 16, most observers predict a second round, tentatively scheduled for July 7.

If one of the two runoff candidates drops out of the race for any reason, the candidate who placed third in the first round will take his place.

Observers, designated by candidates as well as by Russian and international organizations, are allowed to be present during every phase of the voting process, to accompany mobile ballot boxes, to look at the voter lists and if necessary to appeal the actions of polling station officials in the territorial election commissions.

The observers will also receive copies of protocols at the station, regional and central levels.

Elections in Chechnya have been a thorny issue. As part of Monday's peace agreement, the Chechen side stipulated that elections in Chechnya be postponed until after the Russian troop withdrawal, with only federal troops stationed in Chechnya and Russians employed there allowed to vote.

Statements from the pro-Moscow government leader in Grozny, Doku Zavgayev, have muddied the situation, however.

Many analysts have predicted that there will be fraud, but how much is impossible to say. In the regions, McFaul said, between 30 percent and 50 percent of local election commissions are in communist hands, while the Central Election Commission in Moscow is largely pro-Yeltsin.

"We'll never know the exact details," he said.