Sofia Explains Vote Abroad Gaffes with Shortage of IT Experts
The Head of the Commission in charge of organizing the vote of Bulgarians abroad at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Radi Naydenov, officially admitted employees at the institution have committed a gaffe.
Naydenov spoke during a special press conference Tuesday where he issued an official apology for the publishing of addresses of Bulgarian expats, who registered to vote. He made the same statement Monday, unofficially, after being approached by the Bulgarian Dnevnik daily to comment on outrage among Bulgarian diaspora after the Ministry published on its site nearly 37 000 permanent addresses in the country of Bulgarians residing abroad.
"The mistake is ours, the responsibility is ours too. It is normal that sanctions are too follow," Naydenov stated during the press conference, informing that the addresses have been published around 6 pm Saturday and have been removed at 8 am Sunday. He also admitted that the Election Code does not call for the publishing of addresses and this is why they were deleted after the employees realized the mistake, but failed to clarify what exact sanctions are pending for those responsible.
Svetlan Stoev, Administrative Secretary of the Ministry, explained the blunder with the huge amount of information in different formats that had to be processed within a short deadline and the shortage of IT specialists over the low State pay.
It was also revealed that there have been hacker attacks on several sites of Bulgarian Embassies during the process of collecting information. The authorities have been notified. Some attacks included software programs that were automatically reproducing non-existent addresses in Bulgaria.
Naydenov informed that 36 081 people have registered to vote abroad, pointing out the requirements for registration were to submit the signed application in person, by regular mail, or online in PDF format with a scanned signature.
Bulgarians who live outside the country have the right to vote in the October 23 presidential elections. The deadline to submit the applications was September 27.
The data on how many applications are void is still being processed, but the Ministry says they have received a large number of invalid ones such as some PDF files and/or envelopes containing more than one name and more than one application.
Even if they had individual signatures, the fact they were sent together makes them invalid, according to the Election Code, Krasimir Bozhinov, Director of the Ministry's legal department explained.
Other irregularities include double applications for one person – sent both via email and regular mail or one individual sending several applications with different information.
Naydenov reminded that according to the Election Code, 20 applications are needed in order to open a voting poll in a country where Bulgaria has a Consular Office or diplomatic representation, while where there is no such representation, the number of required applications is 100. He gave as example Barcelona where, despite the large number of Bulgarians, there had not been enough applications in order to open voting sections.
Naydenov confirmed Bulgarians, who live in Surgut, Russia, have sent 105 applications in the same envelope. The Surgut diaspora explain it with their wish to save on postage, which is expensive to them. The Central Electoral Commission, CEK, on their part insist they have only 86 applications from Surgut, but say either way there wouldn't be a voting poll in the Russian town because the 105 would have been invalid anyway.
The Ministry also downgraded the number of voting polls in Turkey to 41 from the initially announced 46 with Istanbul having 3 polls, compared to 43 and 9 respectively during the general elections in 2009.
Naydenov further informed that voting sections will not be open in the German cities of Hamburg, Darmstadt, Magdeburg, despite complaints from the diaspora there, because regardless of the fact that the Embassy in Berlin had indeed published wrong information, Bulgarians in these cities had no way of knowing the exact number of submitted applications.
Both Naydenov and Stoev joined around the opinion that the Ministry had fulfilled its duties to Bulgarian voters in Germany, and the latter should have simply been more active, while the mistake of the Embassy of Berlin needs to be subject of another inquiry.
"If you wanted to vote, wouldn't you make sure you filled and sent an application?" Naydenov asked the journalists gathered for the press conference.
There are 63 applications for Hamburg, 34 for Darmstadt and 28 for Magdeburg.
The expats insist that the Embassy in Berlin had announced that there will be voting polls in 6 German cities, including the above 3, if 20 applications are received under article 44 of the Election code. They have sent a link to the Embassy's website where this information could be seen. Meanwhile, the website has published new information – a copy and paste of Election Code texts.
One week ago, the spokesperson of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Vesela Cherneva, voiced surprise from the unusually low number of applications from the Bulgarian diaspora in Germany, but explained that honorary consulates do not have the statute of official diplomatic representations thus the 100 application rule applies to the three cities as it has been for the general elections in 2009.
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