Bulgaria's "2 in 1" Electoral Disgrace
The October 23 presidential and local elections turned into a horror movie for Bulgaria.
There was not one single aspect of Sunday's vote that remained within the limits of what we call normal.
Election pangs started with the opening of polling stations, which took no more than a few hours to turn into beehives.
Nobody had taken into account the fact that "2 in 1" elections take up twice more time, space and discipline than the usual.
At my polling station, I had to wait for 20-plus minutes among a hoard of pensioners, 70% of whom could not read the print on the ballots and/or did not know how to vote (a seventyish woman learned by accident from another sixtyish woman that voting for mayor and voting for municipal councilors are unrelated; another elderly female would not stop repeating the mantra "use a cross, nothing else counts- heard it on the radio this morning! Don't forget- a cross!"). As I inserted my second ballot into the box, the woman in charge of putting the stamps whispered "I'm going to faint!" It was 10 a.m.
Crafty vote brokers naturally used the window of opportunity that had banged open – all the commotion made petty scams much less visible.
Had the hellish disorder been the sole problem, it would have all ended on a moralizing note – we, Bulgarians, as usual, had forgotten to think twice before acting.
We had had the stupidity of organizing the first of their kind "2 in 1" elections based on an entirely new and not uncontroversial Election Code.
Big deal – next time we'll do it better!
Not so fast!
The game had just started to grow rough.
As election day progressed, it was revealed that a large number of Bulgarians had been barred from voting due to faulty database coordination between the Interior Ministry and the electoral administration.
By the end of the day, however, it turned out that some electoral rolls had received a significant number of inexplicable last-minutes entries.
Groups of Bulgarians who had opted for voting at the end of day ended up with their ID cards collected, only to learn that they would not be able to cast ballots because "it is past closing time."
Closing time turned out to be a flexible and ostensibly ad hoc concept.
If we leave aside the traditional attempts at vote-buying and illegal agitation, both reported and unreported cases, on the grounds that it is done at every round of elections, we can go to the final part where all hell broke loose.
October 23 started in disarray, continued with storming reports of irregularities and attempted scams and eventually degenerated into a frantic nationwide vote counting.
In Sofia and other major cities, the process of sectional electoral commissions reporting results to municipal electoral commissions took a heavy toll on the officials.
Members of sectional electoral commissions were forced to stay 30-plus hours on the strenuous job.
Naturally, some refused to take it, leaving bags full of ballots unattended or taking the bags with them at home.
In Sofia, where media coverage was most exhaustive, journalists were denied access to the Universiada Hall, the headquarters of the municipal electoral commission.
Nevertheless, a photo journalist managed to take a shot of a GERB MP leaving the premises with a black back supposedly full of ballots.
Then it was revealed that two MPs of the center-right ruling party had been allowed into the building in a gross violation of election rules.
The two said that they had been asked to bring water and croissants for the exasperated electoral administration stranded in the hall, while the black bag (supposedly full of ballots) had been carried to assist a pregnant official.
Media reports of the random fate of numerous bags of ballots, election protocol "adjustments", unwarranted intervention of party members or representatives, electoral staff exposed to inhumane conditions, etc. proved that October 23 ended in utter disaster and shame.
Despite the huge stain, parties swept the issue under the carpet, engaging in bickering over who had won and who was best poised to triumph at the runoff.
Proposals voiced for requesting a cancellation of the vote were half-hearted at best.
The October 23 presidential and local elections will eventually be won in utter disgrace and amid massive instances of fraud.
Bulgaria's votes were cast without Bulgarians knowing where the ballot bags went or what happened to them.
This is not democracy, this is the Dark Ages!