Bulgaria Constitutional Court rules against challenge to machine voting

Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court said on July 2 that it ruled to deny the challenge lodged by a group of MPs, who argued that amendments to the Electoral Code would take away voters’ choice on how to exercise their franchise.

The challenge was filed by 66 MPs from former Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, who objected to three separate sections of the bill amending the Electoral Code, passed by Parliament in April.

One of the objections concerned the provision that required all votes in precincts with more than 300 voters to be cast using voting machines. Previously, voters in those precincts could choose to cast either paper ballots or use voting machines.

In its ruling, the court said that the constitution did not require lawmakers to provide such a choice and that the way in which the vote was being case – whether using a machine, a paper ballot or any other means – did not impact the voting franchise.

The change in the means of voting did not impact the nature of the vote as equal, direct or secret, the court ruled.

“The hypothetical possibility that voting machines might allow software errors or be manipulated does not create the grounds to conclude that the legal provisions that are subject of this case are unconstitutional,” the court said.

The complaint lodged by MPs also objected to the provisions that changed the procedures for appointing the Central Election Commission (CEC). The court ruled that those provisions did not breach the Bulgarian constitution.

The third part of the complaint referred to a section in the transitional and final provisions of the bill amending the Electoral Code, which said that the proportional electoral system will remain in place until the next “scheduled parliamentary elections.”

This provision caused some debate during the second reading and was included to showcase that cable television presenter Slavi Trifonov’s ITN party remained committed to introducing a majoritarian electoral system at a later date.

In its ruling, the court said that this provision was aimed at the next Parliament, “prescribing it to adopt new rules for holding parliamentary elections under an unspecified electoral system other than the proportional one. This provision is unclear, contradictory and, in practice, unfeasible, which is why it contradicts the principle of the rule of law.” The court said that the provision was unconstitutional and struck it from the law.

The ruling was passed with three dissenting opinions concerning different aspects of the machine voting rules introduced in the Electoral Code.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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