It might make voters in the US November 8 2016 elections green with envy – Bulgarians who go to the polls two days earlier in their own presidential elections will have the option of ticking a box labelled “I do not support anyone”.
This is the first time the option has been offered in Bulgarian elections, for voters to look at the list of 21 candidates competing in the November 6 elections and signal: “A plague on all your houses”.
The decision to include the “I do not support anyone” box appears to be a consequence of a new law enacted in 2016 that makes voting in Bulgarian national elections compulsory.
That new law has complications of its own.
Failure to turn out to vote does not, as it does in other countries such as Australia and Greece, mean a monetary fine. Instead, Bulgaria legislated that failure to vote in two consecutive elections of the same type (for example, presidential, municipal) will carry the penalty of deprivation of the franchise.
Leaving aside the possibility that someone who does not vote may not feel desperately deprived by losing their vote altogether – opinion polls indicate that Bulgarians do not generally have a very high regard for their politicians – it is questionable whether that law will survive a Constitutional Court challenge.
Here’s Article 42 (1) of the Bulgarian constitution: “Every citizen above the age of 18, with the exception of those placed under judicial interdiction or serving a prison sentence, shall be free to elect state and local authorities and vote in referendums”.
The current writer is no lawyer, but more than one qualified expert in this country’s constitution has said that the penalty envisaged by Parliament, of the deprivation of the franchise for not voting, is in direct contradiction of the Bulgarian constitution.
To add to the fun, by the way, November 6 sees not only Bulgaria’s presidential elections, but also a national referendum on three questions. One of them is whether to make voting compulsory.
As with all referendums in Bulgaria, a minimum threshold of voter turnout is required to make the outcome mandatory for Parliament to follow up. Should a “no” vote achieve that threshold, Parliament would be obliged to retract its own law. However, should the vote be “yes”, the status quo would remain – at least, until the Constitutional Court – presumably, going by the article of the constitution quoted above – strikes it down.
These are not the only interesting dimensions.
Interviewed by Bulgarian National Radio, professor of mathematics Krassimir Kalinov pointed out that even those who support no candidate would have their votes recorded, increasing the official record of voter turnout.
Kalinov added that if, say, 100 people voted, and 99 voted “I don’t support anyone” while one voted for a candidate, that candidate would be elected. He added that should the sole vote be that of an election candidate, that candidate would be elected by their own vote.
Opinion pollster Boryana Dimitrova told BNR that the inclusion of the “I don’t support anyone” box raised the risk of spoilt ballots, for example, if someone scratched out all the other boxes, or if someone chose a candidate but also ticked the “I don’t support anyone” box.
Further, it may be mischievous, but one may add the following issue.
For a candidate in a Bulgarian presidential election to win at the first round, that candidate must get 50+1 of the votes cast.
Should no candidate do so, a second round is held, between the two candidates who got the most votes at the first round.
So what happens if, at the first round, “I don’t support anyone” gets 50+1 of the vote?
What happens if “I don’t support anyone” is among the top two vote-getters? Does “I don’t support anyone” go to a second round? And even if that second round is held between two flesh-and-blood candidates, will the “I don’t support anyone” box still be there anyway?
One answer may be that the law refers to a candidate, not to a “I don’t support anyone” option (thus ruling out a scenario whereby the current incumbent hands office in January 2017 to an empty chair).
Either way, Bulgaria’s politicians may be set to receive a discomforting signal.