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site.btaMPs Hear Central Election Commission Chair, Interior Minister over Reliability of Machine Voting, Election Crimes

MPs Hear Central Election Commission Chair, Interior Minister over Reliability of Machine Voting, Election Crimes
MPs Hear Central Election Commission Chair, Interior Minister over Reliability of Machine Voting, Election Crimes
CEC Chair Neykova during the hearing in Parliament (BTA Photo)

Parliament conducted a hearing here on Monday of Central Election Commission (CEC) Chair Kamelia Neykova over the reliability of voting machines. Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov was also heard in Parliament. It became clear that no new voting machines will be used in the upcoming October 29 local elections and that CEC has proposed the development of new software for the voting machines, to which the responsible institutions did not respond. The hearing triggered political comments and reactions in Parliament ranging from seeing it as a targeted attack against machine voting, which is very reliable, to seeing risks of manipulating the elections.

No new voting machines will be used

No new voting machines will be delivered for the local elections, but the already existing 12,837 devices will be used, said Kamelia Neykova here during the hearing. She noted that all voting machines are stored in a private warehouse as no State-owned warehouse has been provided by the Council of Ministers.

Neykova explained that in case a voting machine experiences a problem on election day, it is not replaced, but voters start voting with paper ballots.

The voting software, after the procedure of trusted source code creation in a secure environment, provided by the Ministry of e-Government, is signed with keys that are only in CEC's possession, under a specific procedure, and are not provided to outsiders, the Commission's Chair. 

She added that access to the source code and documentation for the machine voting system is granted to representatives of parties and coalitions registered to participate in the elections. 

Neykova stressed the need to regulate the special protection and status of the machine voting devices, just like the status of paper ballots is regulated. 

Kamelia Neykova also commented that a number of checks and tests are being carried out on the security of machine voting. Also, the Ministry of Interior and the State Agency for National Security are checking all persons who have access to the warehouse where the voting machines are stored and who will work on their preparation and delivery to the Election Commission.

Lack of institutional response to CEC’s proposal to develop new software  

CEC has repeatedly proposed the development of new software for the machine voting, commissioned by the State so as to avoid foreign participation, but there has been no response from any institution, Kamelia Neykova commented during the hearing.

"In order to have no foreign participation in the machine voting, the CEC has repeatedly, including in the reports on the holding of the elections, proposed the development of new software, commissioned by the Bulgarian State, so that the interference of foreign companies or persons in this process could be completely eliminated. To date, the CEC has not received a response to this question from any institution. Our last proposal was made to the Council of Ministers immediately after its formation," said Kamelia Neykova.

She added that with the voting software acquired in early 2021 under a contract, no technical decision could be made without the involvement of the software's creator, Smartmatic International Holding.   

In her words, for this reason, the CEC has approached the software creator to be a direct partner of Bulgaria, but "once again we have been refused".

"In an effort to ensure fair elections, CEC has repeatedly attempted to engage the bodies that are tasked with this country's security to come with both expertise and security measures regarding the voting machine and the electoral process in general. Unfortunately, the answer the CEC received was that they are not assigned such powers under the Election Code's Article 18," Neykova said.

Interior Minister on measures against election crimes

Ahead of Bulgaria's October 29 local elections, Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov told a hearing in Parliament on Monday that his Ministry had put in place measures to prevent election crimes.

A taskforce headed by the Ministry's Secretary General was set up to manage activities involved in counteracting crimes against the citizens' political rights, preserving public order and ensuring fire safety during the election period, the information exchange between the Interior Ministry structures and coordination with the state institutions.

A plan has been prepared assigning tasks to structures of the Interior Ministry and deadlines for implementation. According to Stoyanov, the plan coordinates the activities of the Ministry's structures and the interaction with the competent state bodies for the prevention and detection of election crimes.

Political reactions

Conitnue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria: MP Nastimir Ananiev saw a targeted attack against the machine voting during the debates during Monday's hearing on the reliability of the machines. After the hearing Nastimir Ananiev said that the purpose of the discussions was to remove the machines and to leave only paper voting. He pointed out that this type of talk is a "targeted campaign" that is trying to "reduce trust in the machines" and remove them somehow. 

"The machines guarantee the vote of every single Bulgarian citizen. Political blabber and urban legends continue to be heard from this rostrum," the MP added. According to him, machine voting is the most protected type of voting. The problem is not the machines, the problem is that votes are bought, the problem is that paper can be very easily manipulated, Ananiev added.

He urged voters to vote by machine because "it is the most protected vote".

MPs from Vazrazhdane, BSP for Bulgaria and There Is Such a People were dissatisfied with the answers given by Interior Minister  Stoyanov and CEC Chair Neykova.

BSP for Bulgaria deputy floor leader Georgi Svielnski: "We are not satisfied with the hearing. There is no way we can tell the Bulgarian citizens that the machine voting is reliable, as it became clear that the Bulgarian State is hostage to a private company called Smartmatic”. 

MPs from GERB-UDF and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms did not take a position on the hearing. However, they asked Stoyanov and Neykova questions during the hearing.  

According to Vazrazhdane MP Angel Georgiev, it became clear from the hearing that the machines are sitting in a private warehouse, the responsible institutions transfer responsibility to each other and no one has control over who has access to these machines. "In general we see that apart from the machines themselves being very flexible, the possibilities of exercising manipulation over them are also very flexible," the MP said. 

"We did not get specific answers to the very important questions we asked, such as why no political party has access to the software. The guilty silence of CC-DB, who did not ask a single question, was very clear," the MP noted.

The request for a hearing was submitted by Tsoncho Ganev and a group of MPs from Vazrazhdane. In addition, the head of the State Agency for National Security was also supposed to come for the hearing in Parliament. It transpired earlier that National Assembly Chair Rosen Zhelyazkov had sent a letter informing the MPs that he was on urgent trips.

/MY/

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By 11:41 on 28.02.2024 Today`s news

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