Voting in Bulgaria’s 2023 ‘paper ballot’ municipal elections proceeds

Voting in Bulgaria’s October 29 municipal elections, controversially being held solely with paper ballots and not machines, was proceeding on Sunday, with the Interior Ministry saying that there had been no serious incidents.

According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), as at 4pm, national voter turnout was 34.16 per cent.

The archive of the CEC website does not record turnout at the same time in Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections. On October 27 2019, voter turnout nationally was 35.98 per cent at 5.30pm.

The CEC said that polling stations opened on time across the country on October 29. Polls are due to close at 8pm.

In the 2023 municipal and mayoral elections, there are 30 231 candidate councillors, vying for a total of 5053 council seats. There are a total of 3077 mayoral chairs, with 1353 candidate mayors of municipalities and 6924 candidate mayors of mayoralties.

In mayoral elections, where a candidate does not get 50+1 of the vote, a second round will be held on November 5, between the two candidates with the largest shares of the vote.

On October 29, the Prosecutor’s Office said that since the beginning of the official election campaign period a month ahead of the first-round vote, one woman had been convicted of buying votes, and 17 people had been charged with breaches of election law.

The woman, from the village of Nikolaevo in the Pleven district, had been banned from holding state or public office for three years.

A total of 157 criminal proceedings related to the election process had been initiated, the Prosecutor’s Office said.

On October 29, Finance Minister Assen Vassilev was denied the right to vote, at his polling station in Haskovo, with officials saying that he was on a “banned list” because he had an address registration in the United States that had not been cancelled.

It was not clear why Vassilev had been removed from the voters roll, considering that previously he had been elected to Parliament from the Haskovo electoral district. He lodged a complaint with the municipal electoral commission, attaching the CEC decision from April 23 declaring him elected as an MP.

However, the district electoral commission forwarded this to Haskovo municipality, saying that it was the relevant authority.

Elsewhere, a complaint was filed against a member of the sectoral electoral commission in Sofia’s Sredets district, who allegedly “gave advice to a voter who wanted to vote by machine, if he wanted to vote by machine, to mark his objections on the ballot.”

On October 27, the CEC ruled that voting in these elections would be solely by paper ballot, after allegations – heavily disputed – that the machine voting process did not meet requirements.

In the case of the Sredets official, the metropolitan electoral commission “spoke with the deputy head of the section and gave him instructions not to behave arrogantly with the voters, as well as not to give ideas to the voters to make notes on the ballots that would make them invalid,” reports said.

A voter in the Nadezhda neighborhood of the capital received a pre-filled ballot for mayor of a district, according to a report by the metropolitan electoral commission.

A representative of the municipal commission spoke with the members of the section who handed in the completed ballot.

“It has been determined that a technical error was made and the wrong ballot returned by a previous voter was submitted. The sectoral electoral commission was instructed not to carry out such actions,” the report said.

On October 29, the CEC posted a notice on its website instructing news agencies “to refrain from publishing interim results of today’s mayoral elections in the country before the end of election day,” adding that this was a breach of election law.

Results of exit polls may be published only after 8pm on election day, the CEC said.

Notwithstanding this, and as has happened in a succession of previous elections, some media were throughout election day using platforms such as Viber and YouTube to post what they claimed were exit polls, without naming from which agency or agencies these polls came.


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

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