Bulgaria’s election watchdog picks winner in voting machines tender

Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said late on December 30 that it picked Ciela Norma as the winner in the tender to purchase 9600 voting machines, which will be used in next year’s parliamentary elections.

Earlier this month, the election watchdog shortlisted six bidders to submit formal offers and disqualified two others on the grounds that they represented the same consortium.

Only two of the six shortlisted candidates submitted their offers before the deadline, with Ciela Norma offering a slightly lower price than its only competitor, Lex.bg.

The losing bid was 36 million leva, the maximum value CEC set on the contract, while Ciela Norma offered to supply the voting machines for 1000 leva less, according to the CEC statement.

In addition to the physical delivery, the contract includes the software used by the voting machines and its source code, so that it can be “modified for all types of elections envisioned in the Electoral Code, without the supplier’s input,” the CEC said earlier, when it announced the tender.

Also included in the tender is servicing the voting machines for the parliamentary elections, due in spring 2021, and training elections officials in the use of the machines.

Bulgaria’s rollout of machine voting has been plagued by repeated delays – after the CEC was unable to secure 13 000 machines ahead of the 2017 parliamentary elections, the National Assembly legislated that the number of voting machines used would increase with each election.

About 3000 machines were used in the 2019 European Parliament election, rented from Ciela Norma, but an Electoral Code provision that called for 6000 machines to be deployed in the local elections later that year was scrapped, on the grounds that it would complicate the electoral process.

Full implementation of machine voting was envisioned for the 2021 parliamentary elections, but the recent changes to the Electoral Code mandate that voters be given the choice whether to use the machines or paper ballots. The amendments drew sharp criticism from President Roumen Radev, but his veto was overturned by MPs.

(Ciela Norma’s sample voting machine used in the 2019 European Parliament election. Screengrab from Bulgarian National Television.)

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