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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Early Voting Begins Ahead of Dec. 2

Early voting for the State Duma elections kicked off Friday for sailors, soldiers, reindeer herders and other voters in remote areas.

The balloting will be conducted in 32 of the country's 85 regions from Nov. 16 to Dec. 1, primarily in Siberia and the Far East, Central Elections Commission member Yelena Dubrovina told a news conference Friday.

It is unclear how many early ballots will be cast in total before election day on Dec. 2. But around 25,000 Russians are expected to cast ballots from abroad, Dubrovina said.

Only 74,000 early ballots were cast in the 2003 Duma elections, according to official figures.

Analysts said the number of early voters in this election would likely be negligible and should assuage any fears that they could be used to manipulate the election in favor of government-backed parties.

Sailors on long voyages in the Pacific Ocean voted Friday on their ships, and the results were then wired to election officials in Khabarovsk, where they will be kept secret until election day, RIA-Novosti reported.

Early voting also began Friday in the republic of Tuva, where election officials were flying by helicopter between camps of reindeer herders, remote meteorological stations and border guard outposts.

"Early voting is held for voters who live in places that are remote and hard to access in order to allow Russian citizens their constitutional rights," Dubrovina told reporters.

Voters abroad began casting ballots Saturday, and all votes from outside the country will be sent to the Kaliningrad Regional Election Commission.

Voters can vote abroad for any of the 11 parties on the ballot at polling stations set up at Russian embassies and consulates in 67 countries.

The first such polling station to open was in Calcutta, India, on Saturday. The last one to open will be in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Dec. 1.

Citing a need to stamp out massive vote-rigging throughout the 1990s, the Duma passed a bill banning early voting, allowing ballots to be collected early only in areas deemed remote by regional election officials.

But in June 2006, pro-Kremlin party United Russia -- which unites, among others, numerous governors and mayors who oversee how the vote is carried out on the ground -- pushed a bill through the Duma giving anyone the right to cast his ballot early.

The law was criticized not only by the opposition, but also by Alexander Veshnyakov, then the head of the Central Elections Commission.

Five months later the Duma scrapped the bill. But in a trade-off, United Russia passed a bill canceling the minimal turnout threshold that was eventually signed into law.

There were 107 million voters registered by the Central Elections Commission as of July, so the percentage of ballots cast early will not have much impact on the final results, political analysts said.

"There is a problem of early ballots cast with no monitors in sight, but given the scant number of early ballots the impact is not what it used to be", said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

There were cases in the 1990s when early ballots cast outside polling stations accounted for up to 30 percent of the total vote in certain regions, Petrov said.