Bulgaria’s July elections: Voting process abroad faces serious challenges

Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry, responsible for the voting process abroad in the country’s July 11 early parliamentary elections, faces serious challenges because of the amendments to the Electoral Code approved earlier this year.

“Nineteen days before the election, and we still don’t have a solution for the (voting) machines,” Ivan Kondov, head of the working group on the elections at the Foreign Ministry, told a news conference on June 21.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) has not yet secured all the voting machines that it says will be required for the elections.

On June 21, the CEC announced a new public procurement for the supply of 1637 additional machines for the elections from the company Smartmatic, manufacturer of the already 9600 devices already available. A CEC spokesperson said that maybe the additional machines would be secured by the end of the week.

The CEC has not yet announced the number of voting machines needed for the election process abroad, and the Foreign Ministry has declined to speculate about this issue.

Kondov said that the ministry had hoped that there would be a solution to the matter of the voting machines by now.

“We hoped this would be on the 20th day before the election, so that we could be sure that we would be able to handle the delivery of machines without any problems.”

The deputy head of the working group, Kalin Anastasov, warned that if there is no decision of the CEC by Thursday, a problem with supplies in some countries could be expected.

“We are not so much worried about when they will tell us, but as much about when they will give us the opportunity to be able to load them. The whole logistics organisation we have set up is extremely worrying for us after Thursday,” Anastassov said.

Because of the amendments to the Electoral Code, which make it easier to request the opening of polling stations abroad, there will be a record number.

According to the Foreign Ministry, there will be 784 polling stations in 68 countries, though the CEC said at the end of last week that there would be 791.

“Our and their figures differ a little, but this is a technical issue that will be clarified in the coming days,” Kondov said.

For the first time, there will be polling stations on some Greek islands – a highly popular summer holiday destination for Bulgarians – and in the Dominican Republic.

Kondov said that the ministry was very worried about the human resources required to operate all these polling stations abroad.

Another issue is that the Electoral Code says that a polling station is opened abroad in any place where in the past five years, more than 100 people voted.

Kondov said that in some of these places, there were no longer Bulgarian communities.

Further, it could happen that places where polling stations are opened for the July elections and more than 100 people vote there, because the law, there would have to be polling stations there again in the autumn for the presidential elections. But the season would be long over and there would be no Bulgarian citizens there.

Kondov expressed hope that the legislation would be amended again so that instead of automatically opening polling stations in such cases, there would be flexibility to merge them or not open them at all.

A further issue arising from the large number of polling stations abroad was the process of returning ballots.

The law requires this to be done by diplomatic post, whether or not Bulgaria has diplomatic representation in the place where voting has taken place.

Kondov said that he hoped that a proposal that had been put forward in the previous National Assembly, to allow ballots from the more distant destinations to be returned by courier companies, would be accepted. This would ease the logistics and save money, he said.

(Photo: Akis Giannikopoulos/freeimages.com)

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