Bulgaria’s 2023 municipal elections: Thousands protest for the return of machine voting

Thousands turned out on October 28 in a protest in central Sofia demanding the return of machine voting in Bulgaria’s municipal and mayoral elections.

On October 27, the Central Election Commission (CEC), in a 12 to two vote, decided that on October 29 and November 5 – the first and second rounds of the local elections – voting would be solely by paper ballot and machines would not be used.

The CEC decision followed what it said was the lack of a decision by the e-government ministry authenticating the machines.

Controversy arose on October 27 when it was claimed that a report by the State Agency for National Security (SANS) said that the machine voting process was compromised.

The e-government ministry has rejected this allegation, as has Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov’s government.

The We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition has appealed in the Supreme Administrative Court against the CEC decision, and has called on the court to rule before voting begins.

On October 28, CEC head Kamelia Neikova told Bulgarian National Television that only paper ballots will be used in the local elections and there will be no turning back from this decision.

At the protest, which began outside the former Party House where the CEC has its headquarters, participants chanted “mafia!” and “bring back machine voting”. They called for the CEC to hold a special meeting to bring back machine voting.

Bulgarian electoral law says that voters should have a choice between paper ballots and machine voting.

Denkov was scheduled to make a statement at 2pm and reportedly, the CEC was to meet at 2.30pm.

WCC-DB parliamentary group co-leader Atanas Atanassov demanded an immediate procedure to dismiss the leadership of SANS.

“The actions of the State Agency for National Security pose a threat to the national security of the Republic and the democratic functioning of the institutions, because they compromised the electoral process,” Atanassov said.

“I call on the Cabinet to immediately start a procedure for the dismissal of the SANS leadership due to abuse of power,” he said on Facebook.

Atanassov called on the Speaker of Parliament, Rossen Zhelyazkov, to make the SANS report public. Boiko Borissov’s GERB called on Denkov to make the report public.

The Interior Ministry said that it had received a letter from the CEC to return voting machines to the warehouses.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Nikola Minchev, of WCC-DB, called on the Interior Ministry not to hurry with the return of the machines already sent to the polling stations, in order not to create logistical problems, because the situation is dynamic.

Minchev called on voters to come out and vote on Sunday in spite of the problems created.

“A complaint has been filed, there is also an order to certify the technical condition of the machines, and there are all grounds for reconsidering the decision,” Minchev said.

Related stories:

Bulgaria’s 2023 municipal elections: Controversy deepens as machine voting cancelled

Row as campaigning ahead of Bulgaria’s local elections comes to a close

Bulgaria’s 2023 municipal elections: The Sofia Globe’s factfile

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Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.