They're fixed and they're falsified. They're far from free and fair. And their results are painfully predictable.
But despite all of this, elections to Russia's State Duma nevertheless matter.
Just as Russian presidential elections under Vladimir Putin have been turned into coronations, Duma elections have become the regime's principal legitimization ritual.
When the Kremlin gets the political theater right, the ritual is a success. But when it gets it wrong, as was the case five years ago, the result is a disaster.
So will the September 18 State Duma elections be good theater or bad theater?
On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we preview the elections and what they portend. Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and Moscow-based journalist Anna Arutunyan, author of the book The Putin Mystique: Inside Russia's Power Cult.
Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.