The Electoral Commission has warned of difficulties with machine voting for local elections

The spokesperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Rositsa Mateva, warned in an interview with the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) about difficulties in the machine voting in the local elections at the end of October and expectations of a runoff in many places. From Mateva’s explanations, it became clear that the leading reasons were two: the software of the voting machines and the short time of one week until the second round with the top two candidates by results.

In some places in the country, in the upcoming elections, people will have the opportunity to vote for four types of votes: for mayor of a town hall, mayor of a district, mayor of a municipality, municipal council. So far, the machines have only been programmed for parliamentary, presidential and a few partial local elections. Local elections across the country seem to be a completely new challenge, as the parties and the combinations between them in multiple municipalities may be different, the length of the lists may be different.

Looking for new software

“When these machines were purchased and contracted for their delivery and software in February 2021, there were no plans to vote in local elections with machines. Discussions are currently underway as to how this software will be upgraded so that it can be used for general local elections, municipal councilors and mayors,” announced Rositsa Mateva.

This practically means that for the remaining little more than two months until the local elections, all over 9,000 sections with machine voting (with over 300 voters) must prepare new software.

Officially, the CEC has not yet chosen a contractor for such an order, but has always relied on “Cyela norm” . The relations between the election administration and the contractor company are not smooth, as until about a year ago there was a dispute between the two sides about the payment and the ownership of the machines. Although the devices now belong to the state, Ciela Norma has been tasked with reconfiguring the software.

In the last three years or so, the Electoral Code has also undergone dynamic changes that do not allow early planning and preparation for local elections: In 2019, it was decided to vote with ballots in local elections, and with machines for the rest. In 2020, it was introduced in sections with over 300 voters to have a choice between machine and paper voting, but not to apply to local elections. Less than a year later, in 2021, it was decided to vote only by machine in all types of elections in sections with more than 300 voters. And 2022 was not without changes to the Electoral Code , when the widespread use of paper ballots was returned and the vote was counted manually, regardless of how it was voted.

A week is short

In front of the BNR, Mateva pointed out that according to the electoral commission, the period of one week between the elections and the runoff is also short. Such is held if no mayor is elected with more than 50% of the votes in the first round, they will be held on November 5.

“The CEC has been warning for many years that the period between the two rounds of the elections should be at least 14 days. Fourteen days will be much more peaceful to prepare the second round,” said Rositsa Mateva. He concluded, however, that despite the challenges, the commissions would cope: “Until now, we have always coped within a week. We will cope now as well, because there is no other option”, said the CEC spokesperson.

Paper-only machine voting unit

With the latest changes to the Electoral Code, from the end of 2022, the National Assembly voted to establish a special unit at the CEC to deal with machine voting. So far, however, this remains only on paper, as Mateva explained that during the first procedure for selecting personnel to work in it, no one applied. According to the election administration, the reason is that the pay offered is low compared to the private sector.

Mateva stated that the commission will hold a new competition, but even if this time there are people willing to work for the election administration, it will be too late to not rely on a private company for the preparation for the local elections. “A competition will be announced, but even if candidates appear, they will not be able to participate in the work for the elections for municipal councilors and mayors. Even if they are appointed, they will join the work at the last moment,” Rositsa Mateva told BNR .

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