One Local Vote at a Time: Electoral Practices of Kazan Province, 1766-1916
Guenther, Rita S.
Local elections in the Russian Empire were conducted long before the Great Reforms in the mid-nineteenth century, the point from which many scholars have traditionally dated them; and gradually became a routine part of local life. Such practices were founded on the provincial reforms initiated by Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century, and were further solidified by the electoral procedures adopted for the 1766 elections to Catherine the Great's Legislative Commission as well as by her local reforms. Through a series of case studies of local elections in the ethnically and religiously diverse Kazan province, this dissertation analyzes how local elections expanded into the early twentieth century, across a host of institutions, and suggests possible ways that future scholarship may place the electoral activity in the Russian Empire in a larger comparative context. The goals of this dissertation are to examine: 1) how people of various religious, ethnic, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds participated in the governance of Kazan province through elected institutions; 2) how elections served as a mechanism for negotiating life amidst such diversity of people, balancing the demands of the imperial government with the realities of the local context; and, 3) how local elections created experiences and practices that contributed to evolving notions of rights, participation, and representation as expressed in the words of voters themselves.Research findings indicate that the habits of electoral practice served as ready experience and knowledge when the dynamic changes of the mid-nineteenth century ended serfdom and reformed provincial administration, ushering in an era of greater self-government, more direct representation of individuals and interests, and more deliberate expression of political notions. These foundational habits of electoral practice served as a well-spring of experience that fed calls for fuller participation in the political decisions of the Russian Empire through elected delegates to a partially representative parliament. When this call was heeded in response to the 1905 revolution, the bedrock of practical electoral knowledge and experience held by Russia's diverse peoples was already there, laid inadvertently by the processes initially implemented by the central government in need of more efficient local administration.
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