Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bulgarian referendum could introduce e-voting and improve transparency

Source: Google Images
Electoral reform could soon be coming to Bulgaria. The country's President, Rosen Plevneliev, proposed in January that a referendum should be held on three key issues surrounding elections in Bulgaria: the introduction of a majority election, the proposal for compulsory voting among citizens and the introduction of e-voting technology.

A big part of the problem with the democratic process in Bulgaria is that the people have very low trust in the political institutions in the country. Indeed, Bulgaria is regarded as the second most corrupt member of the European Union and this doesn't fare well for how the people of Bulgaria regard their governments. Indeed, recent polls have indicated that public trust in parliament is a mere 10 percent. Electoral reform that sees improvements in transparency could aid in this effort.

The introduction of a majority election could help too. Currently, the people vote on lawmakers based on a set of pre-defined party lists. What this means is that the people of Bulgaria are currently electing their 240 parliament members from party lists that are chosen by someone else, rather than electing these officials on an individual basis, based on individual merits. They may choose a party list based on just one person from the list, not knowing anything about the other candidates on the list that they are also effectively voting for.

There are debates as to whether compulsory voting would be beneficial, but President Plevneliev wants “the voice of the people [to] be heard.” Proponents of compulsory voting say that it would improve the legitimacy of the results, as it would be far more difficult for interested parties to “buy” votes and thus rig the election results. It could also help to fight voter apathy.

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments that could come from the Bulgarian referendum is the development of e-voting technology as part of the overall electoral system. Opponents of the proposition bring up common concerns about security and technical complexity, but the overall advantages of such a system are undeniable. The primary goal for the Bulgarian implementation would be to provide better representation and access to the tens of thousands of Bulgarians who are living abroad.

Remote voting, oftentimes implemented over a secure Internet web portal, is growing in popularity among many countries around the world. We've already seen improvements in remote voting in places like Australia and the Philippines, helping rural residents and expatriates have their voice heard on the issues that matter to them. In tandem with the possible inclusion of compulsory voting in Bulgaria, this could help to further legitimize the elections and help to improve trust in government.

Indeed, following allegations that up to 350,000 fake ballots were prepared to influence the May 12 general election last year in Bulgaria, having a voter-verifiable paper trail to go along with an e-voting system that is thoroughly audited by an impartial third party could reduce doubts among the Bulgarian people in regards to electoral fraud.

However, the referendum on these three key issues – majority voting, compulsory voting, and e-voting technology – may not even be held. As it stands, a petition is being signed that could then be delivered to the Bulgarian government. If 500,000 authentic signatures are collected, a poll must be held.

"I appeal to the parliament to take a decision to hold a referendum, said Plevneliev. “I believe [it] will help to stabilize the institutions and increase public trust.”