Russia kicks off referendum on constitutional changes that could keep Putin in power until 2036

A woman casts her vote in the 2020 Russian constitutional referendum at a polling station in Amur Oblast in Russia's east.

Moscow (CNN)Russia on Thursday kicked off early voting in a national referendum on controversial amendments to the country's constitution that could allow President Vladimir Putin stay in power until 2036, amid reports that the process had been marred by election tampering and compulsory voting.

The vote, originally scheduled for April 22, was delayed amid coronavirus concerns. Election officials said early voting would be held to aid social distancing: Russia is still reporting around 7,000 new cases each day, according to official statistics. The voting culminates on July 1, the officially designated day for the plebiscite, which has been declared a national holiday.
The constitutional changes, unveiled early this year, will formally seal Putin's long-term hold on the presidency. Putin has been in power for two decades, and under current law, must step down after his term expires in 2024. The amended constitution would effectively re-set the count on his term limits.
    The referendum on proposed amendments to the Russian constitution began on Thursday.
    In an interview aired this weekend on state television, Putin hinted strongly he would run again and made clear his view about opening up the presidency to greater political competition.
    "We need to get on with work, not look for successors," he said.