Back to the Future

It’s no secret that the Kremlin is facing a turnout problem in the upcoming elections.Voter participation has dropped in every presidential election since 1991, from 76.66 percent to 65.3 percent in 2012. In 2018, the Kremlin has said it hopes to get 70 percent of Russians to the polls.

Meanwhile Alexei Navalny, who is blocked from registering as a candidate, has called for a voter boycott, which could threaten to drive even more potential voters away. It’s enough for one to wish for the good old days of the USSR, when turnout hovered at around 100 percent.

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The “Mos/Eda!” festival is not so far out of the Soviet playbook for elections. Maya Akhrarova, 49, told The Moscow Times how she went with her mother to the polls in Tashkent, now the capital of Uzbekistan. There was an entrance where you came in, gave your passport, filled out the ballot, and then you left through a different exit in back, she explained, where there was a cafeteria. “They were frying and steaming pirozhki and all sorts of other things. It all smelled delicious,” she recalled with nostalgia.

Zinaida Sukhova, 82, a former English teacher from Rostov-on-Don, had similar memories to share. “Back then,” she said, “there were fewer groceries you could buy, but here…”

Voting itself was symbolic. The Communist Party had already picked out the candidates that would win, and if you didn’t agree, your only option was to leave your ballot blank, which, in 1966, 0.2% of the electorate chose to take advantage of. Sukhova described voting not as a political action, so much as something that was expected of you. “Some of the names I knew, some of them I didn’t. It didn’t really matter,” she said, adding “I wasn’t interested in politics.” Despite her political apathy, she was a member of the Communist Party and “couldn’t imagine not going to vote. I knew it was my duty.”