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Bulgarian Election Plagued by Low Turnout

Sofia, Bulgaria – Bulgaria’s sixth election in three years saw a record-low turnout of just 30 percent of eligible voters. The June 9 election for the Bulgarian Parliament as well as the European Parliament failed to engage voters who are disenchanted and fatigued.

 While the voting day was reasonably normal, the vote count process was confusing for many commissioners. The Committee for Open Democracy had 23 international observers from 8 countries (Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States), observing in Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv, Blagoevgrad and Pazardjik.

 Based upon the observations of the COD mission, we offer the following recommendations in the spirit of constructive criticism based on international best practices:

1. The vote counting process needs to be more efficient. Despite the low turnout and

subsequent few votes cast; the election commissions frequently acted confused by the

procedures for counting the votes, leading to delays and unnecessary bureaucratic

procedures. Since voting machines are used by a majority of Bulgarian voters, the

machines could be upgraded to count the ballots rather than simply print them and have

them counted by hand (which is the current procedure).

2. Equipment necessary to support the work of the election commissions needs to be

upgraded. There were multiple failures of voting machines, slow copying machines, and

a lack of copy machine toner.

3. Commissioners need to be better informed about the rights of observers. While

most commissioners were welcoming and accommodating towards international

observers, there was often confusion about the rights of observers to ask questions,

receive copies of protocols, make photos/videos, and file complaints. Specific training from the regional election commissions on these rights should be included in the future. In some rare cases, commissioners were even hostile towards some international observers which is

disappointing given the poor participation in Bulgarian elections.

4. Given the historically high number of invalidated ballots and the low turnout in elections, guidelines for determining the will of the voter on paper ballots need to be improved. In other countries the commission head holds the paper ballot for all other members to see and a vote is taken whether to accept the ballot as valid by the commission. With 30 ways to invalidate a paper ballot, this feature of Bulgarian elections needs improvement.

5. The campaign period needs to be extended so that parties may better educate

the public and share their platforms with the voters. The record low voter

turnout is indicative of the disappointment and fatigue of the electorate due to the

conducting of six elections over three years in Bulgaria. Part of the disengagement of

voters is due to the short 30-day campaign period. Political parties and candidates

need additional time to engage the public in order to share their governing ideas. The

short campaign period discourages engagement and needs to be lengthened. Bulgarian

news media can also help improve turnout by emphasizing issues over personalities.

 The Bulgarian media tends to prefer sensational topics during the campaign

rather than discuss substantive issues affecting the lives of ordinary Bulgarians.

 COD has observed 29 elections in 9 countries since its founding in 2010. COD is a United States not-for-profit based in Florida. Countries where COD has observed in the past include Albania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine. This was COD’s third election monitoring mission in Bulgaria. Previously COD observed the 2013 parliamentary election and the 2023 local elections.

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