Bulgaria’s government coalition has tabled a bill of amendments to the Electoral Code that would remove the requirement to use 6000 voting machines at the local elections due in autumn. The bill is also backed by the smallest party in the National Assembly, the populist Volya.
If passed, the amendments would undo the Electoral Code changes made in March, which mandated the use of 3000 voting machines in the May 2019 European Parliament elections, rising to 6000 machines in the local polls.
But the Central Electoral Commission’s (CEC) analysis after the European Parliament elections noted that the deployment of voting machines – the first time they were used on a large scale in Bulgaria – created a number of difficulties, the bill’s motives said.
CEC’s analysis of the European Parliament elections was “highly concerning” and if the same issues persisted, it would call into question the election results, the head of National Assembly’s legal affairs committee Anna Alexandrova said, as quoted by Bulgarian National Radio (BNR).
Furthermore, the sheer complexity of local elections – given that each municipality had its own set of candidates – would require each machine being set up individually, rather than loading the same software on all machines, the bill’s motives said.
It also cost much more, per vote cast, to use voting machines compared to paper ballots. If 6000 voting machines were used in the local elections, the cost would reach 18 million leva, according to calculations by GERB, the senior partner in Bulgaria’s government coalitions, quoted by BNR.
The bill targets the use of voting machines in the 2019 local elections, but further stipulated that machine voting can only be used in presidential and European Parliament elections. It made no reference to Bulgarian Parliament elections, due no later than May 2021.
The government coalition aimed to pass the amendments by the end of July, before the National Assembly adjourns for its summer recess, Bulgarian National Television reported. Alexandrova said that the bill had the backing of all political parties, save the largest opposition party, the socialists.
Socialist MP Kroum Zarkov said that the party saw the amendments as “absolutely unacceptable” and criticised the frequent changes to the Electoral Code. The current law, adopted in 2014, has been amended each year since then, sometimes more than once a year.
Another socialist MP, Hristo Prodanov, blamed the CEC for “sabotaging machine voting” and a third, Kiril Dobrev, said that all the issues pointed out by the CEC could be fixed before the elections.
(Voting machine used in May 2019 European Parliament elections in Bulgaria. Screengrab from Bulgarian National Television.)