site.btaUPDATED Controversy Continues over Central Election Commission Decision on Ballot Counting

Controversy Continues over Central Election Commission Decision on Ballot Counting
Controversy Continues over Central Election Commission Decision on Ballot Counting
A voting machine used in the October 2, 2022 snap general elections in Bulgaria (BTA Photo)

A controversial decision of the Central Election Commission (CEC) on Monday regarding the counting of paper and machine ballots from the April 2 elections did not subside on Tuesday. Two coalitions said they would contest the decision, but Prime Minister Galab Donev does not expect this to undermine the transparency of the voting process. 

President Rumen Radev said nobody should be allowed to interfere in the CEC decisions as it would further undermine voters' trust in the election process and bring further down the voter turnout, which reached an unprecedented low of 39% in the 2022 early general elections.

The controversial decision

By a vote of 11 in favour and 4 against, CEC decided Monday that after paper ballots and machine-voting ballots are counted, the records for both kinds should be entered into the tally sheets together rather than separately.

CEC Deputy Chair Tsvetozar Tomov announced that he was resigning as CEC Spokesperson over that decision. In the reasoning for his resignation, Tomov said that it creates risks concerning the fairness of the election process in Bulgaria. "How serious the risks are, will become clear on April 2. Anyway, the decision raises an insurmountable obstacle to my being a spokesperson of this commission. I refuse to do the job from now on." He did remain CEC Deputy Chair.

CEC Chair Kamelia Neikova, spokespersons Rossitsa Mateva, and member Lyubomir Georgiev were also opposed to the decision.

Democratic Bulgaria lash out at the decision

Former e-Government Minister Bozhidar Bozhanov explained that the tally sheets where the election commissions will put down the voting results will have only one column featuring the aggregate "paper + machine" results. "This makes it almost impossible to conduct automated checks at the district election commissions to see whether at least the machine-cast votes were counted correctly," Bozhanov wrote in a Facebook post. 

On Tuesday, the Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria coalition said that they will appeal CEC's decision before the Sofia Administrative Court. The appeal will be within the three-day legal deadline. They pointed out that the decision was a revised version of a motion by a Socialist representative in CEC, which was pushed through on the votes of the CEC members designated by GERB-UDF, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), and There is Such a People. 

Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria say that mixing of the paper ballots and machine-voting ballots creates the possibility of massive technical failures and deliberate vote fraud.

CEC Public Council will decide to appeal or not on Tuesday evening

The CEC Public Council will decide on Tuesday evening if they will appeal the decision before the Supreme Administrative Court, said for BTA Tsvetelina Peneva, chairperson of the Council. 

CEC's decision is in contradiction with the spirit of the Election Code, which still has Article 271, obliging machine and paper ballots to be counted separately, she explained.

Peneva sees the lack of subsequent control as a threat to the transparency and fairness of the elections. The results given by the machine protocol and the results given by the flash memory of the machines would be very useful in a follow-up to check whether the machine ballots were counted correctly. "And now in the section protocol we will not have the results of the machine ballots per se - nor the result for parties, not to mention preferential voting," she added.

The Left Coalition also to appeal decision

The Left Coalition also said they would be contesting the CEC decision, and agree that it would give the possibility of vote fraud and irregular counting of the machine-voting ballots.

Vazrazhdane: It is wrong to report all ballots together

According to Vazrazhdane leader Kostadin Kostadinov, it is not right to report the paper ballots and machine-voting ballots together, because if that happens it won't be known how many people preferred to vote by machine. In a comment for the media, he said that it would be very indicative as the main argument of the advocates of paper ballots was that people wanted to vote by paper, not by machine. Now we have no way of knowing whether this is the case or not, Kostadinov noted. If there is no such information on election day, this argument will remain just a hypothesis, and it will become clear that the reinstating of the paper ballot was done for a very simple purpose - so that GERB-UDF, BSP and MRF can raise their results in the same way they have been doing for years - by falsifying the vote, he added.

PM: Decision unlikely to mar fair elections

"I do not think that one such decision could mar the fairness of the elections," Prime Minister Galab Donev commented. He expressed the belief that there is no possibility of vote fraud if both type of ballots are entered into the tally sheets together.

The Prime Minister added that state institutions are working to hold fair elections. However, he said that while he does not see how the reporting of paper and machine ballots all at once rather than separately would jeopardize the elections, it would have been better to keep track of the votes separately so it is visible how many preferred to vote by machine and how many, by paper. 

President: No interference admissible in CEC's work 

The Central Election Commission is an independent authority and there should be no interference in its work, there should be no instilling of distrust in the electoral process as the voter turnout is not at the level it should be, President Rumen Radev commented. "Let's not further depersonalize the machine voting," he added.

Radev also said that every effort is being made to find the best technical and organizational solution for the video surveillance on election day. Mistrust should not be instilled in the election process, the President reiterated. I do not think that the electoral process is in danger, he further said.




By 08:56 on 28.09.2023 Today`s news

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