For the First Time: Bulgaria holds Simultaneous National Parliamentary and European Elections

Politics » ELECTIONS | June 9, 2024, Sunday // 09:37
Bulgaria: For the First Time: Bulgaria holds Simultaneous National Parliamentary and European Elections Kaufdex from Pixabay

Bulgarians at home and abroad are going to the polls on Sunday to elect their new lawmakers and their new representatives in the European Parliament. These are the country's sixteenth national parliamentary elections since the start of democratic changes in 1989 and the tenth to be held before the legislature has served its full four-year term in office.

The country is also having its fifth European Parliament elections since joining the EU on January 1, 2007 and the fourth for a full five-year parliamentary term (2024-2029).

For the first time, Bulgaria holds simultaneous national parliamentary and European elections.

Voters

According to the final electoral rolls, 6,593,275 people are eligible to vote for the 50th National Assembly and 6,138,050 for the Tenth European Parliament. The difference is due to residence qualifications required to cast ballots in the European elections: voters there must have had a permanent and present address in Bulgaria or a permanent address in Bulgaria and a present address in another EU Member State by March 9, 2024. In addition to Bulgarian citizens, nationals of other EU Member States who are not Bulgarian citizens, who have been allowed durable or permanent residence in Bulgaria and who have been resident in Bulgaria or in another EU Member State for at least 60 days since March 9, 2024 and are not disfranchised in the Member State of their nationality, can elect Bulgarian MEPs. Otherwise, eligibility to vote in both types of election is limited to citizens aged 18 by polling day who are not interdicted and do not serve an enforceable custodial sentence.

Contestants

Of the 6,518 registered candidates in aggregate, 332 are running in both types of election.

Voter registration is passive. The electoral rolls list people according to their permanent address in Bulgaria.

The 240 seats in the next, 50th Ordinary National Assembly, are contested by 6,100 candidates (1,826 women and 4,274 men), or 25.4 per seat. Of these, 1,506 are standing simultaneously in two constituencies (the maximum number admissible).

Candidate qualifications for the National Assembly are more or less the same as voter qualifications, except for the higher minimum age (21 years by polling day). For the first time, under the latest amendments to the Constitution adopted in December 2023, holders of dual Bulgarian and another nationality are also able to contest seats in the country's legislature provided they have been resident in Bulgaria during the last eighteen months.

The candidates for the 17 Bulgarian MEP seats are 418 (131 women and 287 men), which makes 24.6 per seat.

The right to vote for European Parliament is limited to Bulgarian nationals aged 18 or older by polling day who have resided in Bulgaria or in another EU Member State at least during the last three months and to nationals of other EU Member States aged 18 or older by polling day who enjoy a durable or permanent status for Bulgaria, have resided in Bulgaria or in another EU Member State at least during the last three months, and are not disfranchised in the Member State of their nationality. In both cases, the voters must not be interdicted and must not be serving a custodial sentence.

A total of 32 entities have been registered for participation in the June 9 elections. Twenty parties (on a straight ticket), 10 coalitions (comprising 30 parties altogether), and one independent candidate stand in both types of elections, and one four-party coalition runs for national parliament only.

Election System

National Representatives and MEPs are elected from candidate lists according to a semi-proportional system.

Each party or coalition that has gained no less than 4% of the valid votes within Bulgaria and abroad and each independent candidate that has gained valid votes which are no less than the constituency electoral quota are allocated National Assembly seats using the largest remainder method (Hare-Niemeyer). The same method is applied for the allocation of MEP seats, but there is no set electoral threshold there. Effectively, a contestant needs to have gained at least 5.8% of the valid votes (100% divided by 17 seats) to be elected.

Voters may express a single preference for a candidate on a party list: to be moved up on the list, such a candidate must get more than 7% of the valid votes for the relevant list in the national parliamentary elections and 5% in the European Parliament elections. If no preference is expressed, it is presumed that the voter has agreed with the ranking of candidates on the list. Voters abroad are not able to mark preferences.

For the purposes of national parliamentary elections, Bulgaria is divided into 31 multi-member constituencies. A fixed number of seats (varying from 16 to 4) is assigned to each multi-member constituency.

For the purposes of European elections, the country's territory, including the voting sections abroad, constitutes one multi-member constituency. For the purpose of election logistics, the territory is divided into 31districts coextensive with the constituencies for national parliamentary elections.

Balloting in Bulgaria and Abroad

In Bulgaria, the polls opened at 7:00 a.m. and will close at 8:00 p.m. By exception, if voters are still waiting outside the polling site at 8:00 p.m., voting may continue until 9:00 p.m.

The same time span applies to the voting abroad - only reckoned by local time. The earliest to open were the sections in Oakland and Christchurch, New Zealand, at 10:00 p.m. Bulgarian time on June 8 (7:00 a.m. on June 9 local time). The last to close will be the section in San Francisco, California: at 6:00 a.m. Bulgarian time on June 10 (8:00 p.m. on June 9 local time).

Domestically, balloting for both types of election is taking place at 12,898 voting sections (not counting the sections at hospitals, nursing homes and other social care institutions, at prisons and pre-trial detention facilities, and on board Bulgarian-flagged ships). This number includes 322 sections for voting by a mobile ballot box.

Real-time video monitoring and video taping of the vote counting and tallying process will be in place at 11,635 domestic sections.

In Bulgaria, citizens can practically vote only in the area where their present address is located. Outside Bulgaria, eligible voters can exercise their franchise at any voting section of their choice without prior registration. Of the 769 sections in 60 countries, voting for both kinds of election will be held at 388 sections in 57 countries. Voting for European Parliament will not take place in only three countries: New Zealand, Singapore and Iceland for lack of a Bulgarian embassy or consulate there, because such elections may not be organized elsewhere in a third country.

The most numerous overseas voting sections, 166, are in Turkiye, and voting for the European Parliament will be conducted in four of them. Other countries with a large number of polling sites are the UK (118, including 4 offering both types of election), Germany (103), Spain (64), the US (55), Greece (28), and Italy (27).

Voting is de jure compulsory, but the voting obligation is de facto unenforceable after the Constitutional Court determined in 2017 that the penalty for non-voters (which consists in removal from the electoral roll for the next elections of the same type) was unconstitutional.

Voting: by Paper or Machine

Voters eligible for both kinds of election and wishing to participate in either or both have an option to use a paper ballot or a voting machine. For technical reasons, machine voting is inaccessible to voters excluded from the European elections.

Machine voting is available in 9,346 domestic sections out a total of 12,898 and in 245 of the 769 overseas sections (in 151 sections for National Assembly only and in 94 sections for both kinds of elections).

The paper ballots are white, but the parties' and coalitions' names and numbers are printed in green for the National Assembly and in blue for the European Parliament. Otherwise, the appearance of the ballots for the two kinds of election is the same: a column of the contestants' names and sequential numbers in squares on the left hand and a column of numbered circles on the right hand. In the parliamentary elections, each constituency has a separate combined ballot for the constituency-specific candidate lists registered there. There is a single ballot for the European elections.

Voters register their choice by checking a square with the sequential number assigned to the relevant contestant or a "None Of The Above" square and, optionally, they may also express a single preference for a particular candidate by marking his or her number in a circle. The ballot paper is then folded in a way making the marked choice invisible and is deposited in a transparent ballot box without an envelope.

The machine-voting ballot that appears on the touch screen of a voting machine is designed in exactly the same manner as the paper version. The ballot for the national elections is displayed first, followed by the ballot for European Parliament. Once completed, the machine-voting ballot is printed out and is deposited in a special box.

By decision of the Commission, parties, coalitions and independent candidates entering both types of election are listed under identical numbers on both ballots. The numbers were assigned to the contestants by the drawing of lots.

Distinct, clearly marked ballot boxes are used for the early parliamentary elections and for the European elections. Paper ballots and machine-voting ballots must be dropped in separate boxed for each kind of election.

Both paper and machine-voting ballots will be counted and tallied manually./BTA

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