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How Bulgarians living abroad will be voting – a problem with multiple unknowns

A discussion has been ongoing these past few weeks in the country on how to provide for machine voting at the snap elections for parliament scheduled for 11 July. The price proposed by the company supplying the voting machines was such that the caretaker cabinet terminated the public procurement procedure for the supply of an additional 1,500 machines. This raises a number of questions the debate on which continues. The search is on for the best way to comply with the text of the Election Code according to which voting machines must be provided at each and every polling station where a minimum of 300 voters cast their vote during the latest election.

“The machines the Central Election Commission (CEC) is currently in possession of are quite enough to provide for the voting in the country,” says former MP Martin Dimitrov in an interview for BNR’s Horizont channel.

“For the polling stations abroad additional machines must be provided. There is also an idea – and it is sound – given by the members of the current CEC, to provide two machines for each of the big polling stations in the major cities so people will not have to wait in line to vote.”

However, Stoil Tsitselkov, deputy chair of the Central Election Commission, is sceptical when it comes to voting by machine abroad:

“I still believe that voting by machine abroad is not going to happen,” he says. “There is no such practice, and we, as a CEC public council have been researching the good practices in different countries and proposing the ones that are applicable here, in our own reality. Lugging machines around the world – such a practice does not exist.”

During the previous elections on 4 April Bulgarians living abroad were demanding machine voting, but also a number of other things to make it easier for them to exercise their right to vote. One of these things, the establishment of a designated constituency for Bulgarians abroad, was endorsed by force of amendments to the Election Code though the methodology of parliamentary seat distribution was never formulated. This means that, in practice, such a constituency will not be put in place for the upcoming parliamentary election.

The lifting of the limit on the number of polling places in non-EU countries is the most significant change affecting the voting of our compatriots abroad. This limit was a maximum of 35 polling stations, which meant that many voters had to travel hundreds of kilometres to cast their vote, many of them giving up as they see the enormous queues forming in front of the polling stations.

Casting one’s vote in other countries is still a challenge because there are many things that are, as yet unclear – connected with the way election papers and forms are to be filled out or the settled status valid for all EU citizens living and working on the territory of Great Britain. The deadline for applying for settled status is 30 June, and according to Home Office data there are no less than 305,000 delayed applications thus far.

Though there is a host of difficulties and many things still need yet to be cleared up, the vote of Bulgarians living abroad is followed with an enormous amount of interest. Whether more of our compatriots living in other countries will go to the polls on 11 July is something that is yet to be seen.

Interviews by Silvia Velikova and Diana Doncheva, Horizont channel, BNR

Editing by Yoan Kolev

Photos: BGNE and library

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