Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ban on Voting 'Against All' Wins Tentative Approval

The State Duma has tentatively approved a bill that would remove the "against all" option from ballots in national elections, a change the opposition criticized as an attempt to silence discontent with the state.

The bill sailed through the first of three required readings Friday by a vote of 352-85, with no abstentions.

United Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR, supported the bill, the Communist Party opposed it and Rodina was split.

The "against all" option has grown increasingly popular as a protest vote in recent years. An election is ruled invalid if "against all" beats all the candidates on the ballot.

Supporters of the legislation said people could still protest by not voting.

LDPR Deputy Alexander Kurdyumov said people should "make up their minds before going to vote."

"Voting 'against all' is like not taking part in the elections," he said by telephone. "By abolishing it, Russia is getting in line with the rest of the world, where they don't have such an option," he added.

"Usually, people simply don't vote when they don't know whom to pick," the Duma's Constitution and State Affairs Committee said in a note calling on deputies to back the bill, Interfax reported.

But opposition politicians insisted that voters needed the option.

"If we had fair elections like in the West, we wouldn't need such an option. But in a system without real elections, 'against all' is an important instrument for people to express their feelings," said Sergei Mitrokhin, whose Yabloko party unsuccessfully challenged the 2003 Duma vote after failing to win any seats.

Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin said voters had grown skeptical of elections, and authorities were worried.

"But instead of fighting to have transparent elections in the country, the Kremlin has chosen the simplest way: They get rid of the 'against all' option so nobody will notice that people are displeased," Ilyukhin said.

Boris Nadezhdin, a deputy leader of the Union of Right Forces, which also failed to win Duma seats, said the Kremlin was hoping to secure a smooth handover of power to President Vladimir Putin's designated successor in 2008.

"Imagine a ballot with the name of a certain Ivanov, a completely unknown successor. Most people would vote 'against all,'" he said. "The Kremlin does not want this."

Ilyukhin called the bill a step back from democracy and an attempt to help United Russia in the next Duma elections, set to take place in 2007.