Voting Qualifications in Russia and abroad in the First Third of the 20th Century: The Letter of the Law and Reality

Marina Salamatova


This article examines the evolution of electoral qualifications in Russia and European countries in the first third of the 20th century. The analysis of restrictions on voting in pre-revolutionary and Soviet Russia, as well as other countries, is made with reference to a wide range of sources: legislative acts, official statistics, and unpublished archival documents kept in the central and regional Russian archives. The author analyses typical documents (administrative documents, minutes and resolutions, reports, memoranda, information documents) from the funds of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, and the Central Committee of the Party, which helps her determine the number of persons subject to the deprivation of rights, the functions of qualifications in the Soviet electoral system, and the features of their application. Additionally, the author compares Russian and foreign voting qualifications, which clarifies the similarities and peculiar features of their respective electoral systems. It is demonstrated that the voting qualifications of pre-revolutionary Russia, though having certain characteristics of their own, were otherwise consistent with the main trends in the development of the electoral systems of the European states of the early 20th century, while Soviet voting qualifications were among the most original ones in the world and considerably differed from electoral systems elsewhere. Soviet voting qualifications did not comply with the established principles of suffrage limitations around the world. The Bolsheviks radically democratised and abolished the generally accepted qualifications and, simultaneously, introduced restrictions untypical of other electoral systems (employment restrictions making it impossible for the unemployed to vote). Voter eligibility requirements were not only different from the global ones in their content but functionally too. The body responsible for imposing electoral restrictions in Soviet Russia performed a number of functions that were not characteristic of an electoral system in general. Instead of preventing the institutionally disaffected groups from taking part in voting, it was used an instrument of social and political pressure on the economically active part of society, becoming a significant part of the discrimination policy of the state. This conditioned the connection of suffrage with limitations of a social and economic nature.


voting qualifications; electoral system; electoral body; discrimination policy


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