2023 Elections in Bulgaria: Counting by Hand, Electoral Apathy and Grim Cabinet Prospects
For the fifth time in two years, Bulgarians are called to the polling stations to vote for a National Assembly, which, after a series of unsuccessful attempts, will finally produce a regular government and put an end to the political crisis in the country.
Voting today (April 2) will be again under changed rules. Most significant among them are the return to widespread use of paper ballots and manual vote counting, which observers say will complicate vote counting as a whole and increase the chance of (un)intentional errors. Less than half of the eligible voters are expected to reach the polls again.
According to sociological forecasts, the outcome of the elections will depend on the people who, in the last hours before and on the day of the vote, will decide whether and how to vote. According to the agency's assessment, those who are hesitating whether to go to the polls at all are about 13 percent, and those who are ready to go, but without a clear opinion of whom to support, are about or a little over 15 percent.
Surveys show that the difference between the two coalitions with the greatest chances for the first place - "We Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria" and GERB-SDS, is less than one percentage point. The situation is similar with the parties that are fighting for the third position - DPS and "Vazrazhdane". The minimal differences that are within the statistical error and the considerable number of wavers are a prerequisite for possible reversals at any moment. Added to this is the unknown of abroad voting, which surveys of electoral attitudes cannot capture.
The new parliament is set to have five or six groups, and attempts to form a government will again be difficult, as a combination of more than two formations will most likely be needed. Unofficially, politicians rate the broadcast of a cabinet after the vote between "very difficult" and "impossible".
Expect low activity
Sociologists expect about 40% of voters to go to the polling stations, which means that about 2.5 million people will cast their vote. This is close to the level of the last election in October 2022, which saw the lowest parliamentary vote turnout in decades. According to the list of voters on April 2, there are 6,651,284 people.
By law, voting is mandatory, but there is no penalty for violation. Low interest in voting increases the burden of bought and controlled votes, election experts explain. With low voter turnout, parties with a solid and mobilized electorate have an advantage over those with a wide margin, so turnout can be decisive.
There are 4,566 candidate MPs from 22 parties, coalitions and initiative committees, and just under a third of them are women (1,341 people). The men in the lists are 3,225.
Bomb threats security
Less than a week before polling day, a number of bomb threats were made to schools across the country, but the Ministry of Interior (MoI) assured that everyone's buildings have been secured since Saturday and will not allow any disruption to the electoral process.
"People will be brought out only in a situation where we have real data that an explosive device may have been planted. For me, this is only a theoretical possibility," commented the relevant minister, Ivan Demerdzhiev. According to him, people with large luggage will be checked outside the sections.
Voting: the usual way
After voting only by machine in the major sections for the last three elections, the April 2nd vote returns the paper ballot everywhere. It will be possible to choose between paper and machine in all sections with over 300 voters. In the small sections, as well as in the mobile ones, in medical institutions, in social homes and on the ships sailing under the Bulgarian flag, it will be possible to vote only on paper.
The sections in the country and abroad are a total of 12,891, with machines it will be possible to vote in 9,366 sections in Bulgaria and in 245 outside the country. There are a total of 755 places for voting abroad. Voting abroad does not require a prior application. A form can be filled out on the spot that the voter will not vote elsewhere. In Bulgaria, however, voters can only vote at a permanent address, unless they have submitted an application for voting at a current address.
On paper, voting is done with a blue pen, with an X or V in the square with the number of the desired political force. The ballot is 60 cm long. The voting machine is activated with a card that the voter receives from the section committee. On two pages are the names of the participating coalition parties marked in squares.
In the circles with numbers from 101 upwards, the voter can mark a preference - preferences for a candidate who is further down the list, and thus try to move him forward in the list of candidate deputies. The reordering of lists is triggered if the number of votes for any of the candidates is equal to or greater than 7% of the votes for the entire list.
The protest vote can be marked with "I do not support anyone". If paper ballots are blank or scratched, they will be counted as invalid ballots. These forms of protest voting affect voter turnout, but do not count for any of the participants in the election.
Paper + machines = manual counting with video surveillance
Votes from both paper ballots and machines will be counted manually. The data from the devices can only be used to check if there are discrepancies between what is stored in the flash memory of the machines and what was counted by the sectional committees. Electoral experts recommend voting by machine, because this way there is no chance that the receipt issued by the devices (officially called a machine ballot) if scratched - intentionally or by mistake - will be counted as an invalid vote.
For the first time after the end of the election day, there should be a video broadcast of the vote counting in all sections in the country, except for about 2 thousand - according to the forecast of "Information Service" - due to poor coverage of the mobile network. In any case, a record of the count in the sections should be made to serve in the event of interruptions or lack of connection.
The vote count in real time can be watched on the evideo.bg website. The counting of the votes, filling in and signing of the protocols must be shown with picture and sound. During the voting, video surveillance is not planned to avoid the risk of revealing the secret of the vote.
Video is not required for the sections abroad, as well as for the counting of the vote from voting with mobile ballot boxes, in hospitals, social homes and prisons.
Election day and bans
Election day starts at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 8:00 p.m., and can be extended until 9:00 p.m. if there is a queue of people wishing to vote in front of the section. The first estimated results of the sociological agencies are expected at 8 p.m. from the so-called exit polls, polls at the exit of the polling stations. The official results of the elections, as well as the distribution of mandates in the parliament, will be announced by April 6, and the names of the deputies - by April 9. It is prohibited to:
- Preliminary distribution of election papers and materials.
- Taking the ballot boxes, voter lists and ballots out of the polling station.
- Voting outside the polling station, except for voting with a mobile ballot box.
- The presence behind the voting screen of persons other than the voter, with the exception of cases in which voting with a companion is permitted.
- The presence of other persons at a distance of less than 3 meters from the voting screen when there is a voter in it.
- When voting by machine, persons other than the voter at a distance of less than 2 meters away, have visibility to the machine screen and the marked vote.
- Filming the voting process using mobile phones, cameras or other recording equipment. The fine for this is BGN 1,000.
- Unfolding the ballot paper after completion and before placing it in the ballot box in such a way as to allow the manner of voting to be seen.
- Entering the election premises with weapons and/or objects dangerous to the life and health of citizens.
- To carry out actions in front of and in the polling station that harm good morals and public order.
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