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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bill on Absentee Voting Rejected by State Duma

The State Duma on Thursday rejected a proposal to end a practice that allows lawmakers to cast votes for absent colleagues.

The proposal, submitted by Communist Deputy Vera Savchuk of Irkutsk, was part of a long list of rejected amendments to the lower house's procedural rule book.

The working group revising the rules, led by Communist Svetlana Goryachyova, recommended the amendment be rejected, citing its "excessive strictness."

The practice of absentee voting is controversial among deputies, with some calling for the practice to be abolished as an embarrassment and others calling it a practical way to free deputies with pressing business from being in the chamber all the time.

Deputies leave their electronic voting cards with their party whips, who can then cast their votes for them.

The practice enforces party discipline, which some faction leaders like, but has led to embarrassments, such as the time the Communist whip flew off to Japan, leaving the cards in his safe and his colleagues unable to vote in an emergency session.

Deputy Speaker Alexander Shokhin of the Our Home Is Russia faction added his voice to those calling for change Wednesday, advocating a voting hour when the day's bills would come up for vote, eliminating the need for deputies to have to sit through hours of debate. But his proposal did not come up.

Deputy Adrian Puzanovsky, a member of the Agrarian faction, said the current system is useful, allowing deputies who have already decided how to vote to leave the chamber during lengthy debates.

That way, he said, deputies can tend to other tasks such as participating in working groups on other legislation or meeting officials from the executive branch.

"I don't want to say it's perfect," Puzanovsky said. "But it gives us a reasonable system that allows a deputy to do a greater amount of useful work."

He said it was better than the stricter alternative proposed last year: that the deputies chosen through party lists who comprise about half the Duma be forced to vote party line all the time or lose their seats.

Because party whips register lawmakers as present, the practice of absentee voting makes it difficult to determine the true attendance records of the deputies.