Russia's Central Electoral Commision (CEC) says overall turnout was about 9 percent on the first day of a weeklong vote for constitutional amendments that could pave the way for an extension of President Vladimir Putin’s rule by 12 years.
The CEC said on June 26 that just over 10 million voters casts ballots on June 25, including remote online voting -- a first-day turnout representing 9.2 percent of all registered voters.
Turnout for online voting by residents of Moscow and the Nizhny Novgorod region was 52.8 percent of those who applied in advance for permission to vote remotely -- or about 618,200 ballots cast, election officials said.
Putin proposed the sweeping constitutional reforms earlier this year and insisted on putting it to a nationwide vote even though it was not required by law.
The plan has sparked sharp criticism from opposition members and human rights groups who call it nothing more than an attempt at a power grab by Putin.
Under current rules, Putin is forbidden from seeking a third consecutive six-year term.
But if the constitutional changes are approved, Putin's presidential term-limit clock will be reset to zero -- opening the way for him to run for reelection when his current term expires in 2024, and again in 2030.
There is no minimum turnout required to make the vote valid. But analysts say the Kremlin fears a low turnout could undermine the perceived legitimacy of the constitutional changes.
Voting stations opened on June 25 for a week to help avoid crowds on July 1, the day designated for the nationwide vote, as Russia continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
The vote already had to be postponed from its originally scheduled date of April 22 due to the virus outbreak. Early voting has been allowed since June 10 for people who don't have access to polling stations.
But journalists and opposition figures already are complaining about irregularities in the vote.
In one instance, Pavel Lobkov, a journalist and presenter on TV Rain (Dozhd), said he voted at a Moscow polling station in the morning, then an hour later he was able to cast another ballot online because he had originally registered to participate that way.
“Case closed…The system counted two votes. Everything is filmed on video. It is clear that in this way from each state employee there will be 30 votes in favor,” Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny tweeted after Lobkov’s video appeared online.