President Favours Machine Voting, Wants More Severe Punishments for Vote Buying

ESD 18:46:31 09-12-2019

President Favours Machine Voting,
Wants More Severe
Punishments for Vote Buying

Sofia, December 9 (BTA) - President Rumen Radev on Monday urged the adoption of machine voting in Bulgarian political elections and called for more severe punishments for the buying of votes. Radev hosted a meeting with officials from the Central Election Commission (CEC) and other institutions which were involved in the organization and conduct of the October 27 local elections, as well as election analysts. The meeting was aimed to identify problems in the election system and to propose solutions.

The President cited data from the State Agency for National Security, the Interior Ministry and the prosecution service showing that there were no major differences between the local elections in 2019 and 2015. "The people have the feeling that this is an industry worth tens of millions," he said. He described vote buying and employers' pressure on workers to vote a certain way as shameful, and recommended increased administrative and criminal-law punishments. "We need to think about whether we should change the proportion, how we categorize them, what offences are administrative and what offences are criminal, because this is a crime against democracy," he pointed out.

CEC Chair Stefka Stoeva said at the meeting that the latest local elections were calm and well-organized. "We find the results to be legitimate," Stoeva said, noting that complaints decreased drastically. For example, administrative courts received half the number of complaints and claims than in 2015. Among the main problems, she singled out the high percentage of invalid votes and the complexity of working with tally sheets.

She recalled that after the first round of voting in the latest local elections, the share of invalid votes was estimated at 15.9 per cent, which is the highest level of the last 10 years, but the estimate applied only to the votes for municipal councillors, not counting those for mayors. As for the mayoral race, the situation got better. In the second round of voting for mayors of municipalities, the share of invalid votes was only 1.72 per cent, and for mayors of mayoralties it was 2.21 per cent. So the problem with invalid votes concerns mainly the voting for municipal councillors, Stoeva concluded. She recalled that in 2011, when voters did not mark their preferences for particular individuals on the ballot sheets, the percentage of invalid votes was 6.18 per cent. "This makes us think that the large number of invalid votes this year is due to the option to mark one's preferences," Stoeva said.

According to President Radev, the high share of invalid votes for municipal councillors is absolutely unacceptable in a normal European country. Discussing a common error which consists in marking a preference for an individual on the ballot sheet without marking a political party, Radev argued that machine voting will solve the problem. He drew a comparison with an automated teller machine, which will not allow a cash withdrawal unless the client goes through the whole procedure programmed into the machine. Similarly, a voting machine has a protective mechanism which will not accept a preference mark unless the other required space is checked. "Yes, it costs money, but we should have machine voting, at least to solve the invalid votes problem - and also the problem with vote counting, the collation of the results, the long waiting time that has to be endured by district election commission members, and the carrying over of tally sheets," the President said.

Noting that the 2020 State Budget Act does not have an express provision for launching a voting machine supply procedure, Radev wondered where the money for the machines can come from and when the procedure can start. "For once, we should make sure that everything is in place six months before the next elections," he said.

He also called for prompt steps to introduce remote electronic voting.

CEC Secretary Sevinch Solakova commented that local elections remain a huge challenge. They are not only the most difficult type of elections to accomplish, but also the most expensive type, because they involve multiple ballot paper designs. "We need a concerted effort to improve the overall legal culture of the people and constantly raise public awareness of everyone's rights and obligations," she said.

Political scientist Stoicho Stoichev said that controlled voting actually happens before voting day and works through a voter's relationship with their employer, mayor etc. Stoichev said: "It is a clientelistic relationship: someone looks after you, and you demonstrate your support." The practice affects not only ethnic minorities but also a large portion of the ethnic Bulgarian majority, particularly in small settlements, he said. He noted that it is necessary to overcome social and economic dependencies and improve people's lives. RI/VE

Source: Sofia