Bulgaria scrambles to respond to Supreme Court order for machine voting at all polling stations

Bulgaria’s caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Stefan Yanev, in charge of preparations for the country’s March 2017 early parliamentary elections, was meeting on February 2 for urgent talks with the Central Election Commission (CEC) and other officials to respond to a court decision requiring the option of machine voting to be available at all 12 000 polling stations.

The CEC initially had said that machine voting would be available at only 500 polling stations.

However, this was overturned by the Supreme Administrative Court, in response to an application by a group of former MPs pointing out that electoral law required the machine voting option to be available at all polling stations, alongside the option of using a paper ballot.

It was not immediately clear by how much this would push up the cost of Bulgaria’s early parliamentary elections, for which the caretaker Cabinet has set aside a budget of 29.9 million leva (about 15.3 million euro). Unofficial estimates were that the machine voting requirement would mean the budget would have to be increased by many million leva, to provide not only 12 000 machines but also several thousand spares.

In its initial response to the Supreme Administrative Court decision, the government said that it respected the court’s decision, and the Ministry of Finance would draw up a proposed adjustment to the budget for the March 26 parliamentary election.

The CEC also has said that it will comply with the court’s decision.

In previous elections in which machine voting has been available – twice on an experimental basis and twice counted towards the official result – machines have been rented at a cost adding up to 1500 leva a machine, taking into account transport, maintenance, software and logistics.

In a statement on February 2, the CEC’s public council said that the future of machine voting in Bulgaria should be decided after extensive analysis and public debate.

Sharply increasing the number of machines without sufficient preparation time could be a stumbling block in the organisation of the electoral process, the statement said.

In Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential elections, no more than 25 to 30 per cent of voters had opted to use machine voting.

Meanwhile, February 2 saw the CEC beginning the process of accepting applications from political parties and coalitions to participate in the early parliamentary elections. The deadline for applications is February 8 at 5pm.

To apply to participate, parties must prove that they are registered in court, show a certificate of a bank deposit of 2500 leva, and the personal identity numbers and signatures of no less than 2500 voters supporting the application. A voter may not support the application of more than one party or coalition.

As has become customary in elections in Bulgaria, Boiko Borissov’s GERB party was the first to submit an application. The documents were handed in by senior GERB members Dessislava Atanassov, Dimitar Glavchev and Tsvetomir Paunov.

Paunov told reporters that Borissov was personally involved in the current drafting of the party’s election programme, co-ordinating the work of “experts” and former cabinet ministers who were writing it.




The Sofia Globe staff

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