Controversy over the inclusion on the ballot paper for Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential elections of the option to vote “I don’t support anyone” is deepening, with some expressing concern that it could lead to the elections being invalidated.
The concern is based on the theory that the “I don’t support anyone” box would lead to the elections contradicting the constitution.
This concern was raised at a meeting of members of Parliament’s law committee.
For a candidate in a Bulgarian presidential election to be elected at the first round, that candidate must get 50+1 of the valid votes cast.
MPs said that counting in the votes for “I don’t support anyone” – as provided for in the Electoral Code – would skew the results so that it was possible that a candidate could be elected at the first round with less than 50 per cent of valid votes.
The “I don’t support anyone” option was included in the Electoral Code apparently as a means of “softening” the impact of, for the first time in Bulgarian history, making voting in elections compulsory. The idea also was to avoid voters forced to the polls simply spoiling their ballots.
The option was put forward in April, as Parliament voted on the new code, by law committee head Danail Kirilov of GERB, and was backed at the time by the Reformist Bloc and Patriotic Front.
Reformist Bloc MP Dimitar Delchev, a member of the parliamentary law committee, told local media that the way that the methodology for ballot-counting was set out in the electoral law was in direct contradiction with the constitution.
But he said that the ball was now in the court of the Central Election Commission, not with the lawmakers, and the CEC should apply the constitution.
“I do not know the experts did not see a contradiction in the adoption (of the “I don’t support anyone” option). But I think that introducing it was correct because people had to have a way to express their protest vote,” Delchev said.
Hristiian Mitev of the Patriotic Front saw nothing wrong in the inclusion of the option. “These votes are valid, but do not affect the votes for a particular candidate,” he said.
Chetin Kazak, deputy head of the law committee and an MP for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – which has not formally nominated a candidate in the presidential elections – said that it was quite plausible that the validity of the elections could be challenged because of the issue.
He said that the problem was inherent in the Electoral Code, which provided that the “I don’t support anyone” box would be counted in determining the turnout but not when calculating the results of the vote. He queried how a vote could be valid in one case but invalid in the other.
Philip Popov, of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, said that the “I don’t support anyone” box was “great stupidity”, and underlined that during voting on the Electoral Code, his party had voted against it.
“It means that a person will be required to vote but the votes for “I don’t support anyone” will go in the dustbin,” Popov said.
Lawyers canvassed by local media said that the contradictions in the methodology of counting ballots would leave the elections option to challenge in the Constitutional Court – which has the power to invalidate elections – by any of the candidates deemed to have lost the election.
Bulgarian site Mediapool quoted the Central Election Commission as saying that it could not change the methodology in the election to comply with the constitution, because the commission was obliged to follow the law as approved by Parliament – because failure to do so would also put the election at risk of being declared invalid.