Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Bulgaria's Voting Innovations Slash Invalid Votes Amid Disinformation Onslaught

The adoption of voting technologies in Bulgarian elections has notably enhanced the efficiency and accuracy of vote counting and tabulation, leading to a substantial decrease in the number of invalid votes. In the National Assembly elections on July 11, 2021, invalid votes constituted a mere 0.34% of the almost 2.8 million votes cast—a significant improvement when contrasted with the 2019 local elections, where the absence of voting machines resulted in an alarming 15% of votes being declared invalid. This advancement marks a considerable step forward in bolstering the integrity of Bulgaria's electoral process.

Since first implementing voting technology in 2014, Bulgaria has expanded the use of electronic voting machines with a distribution of roughly 9,500 devices nationwide as of recent elections.

According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the implementation of machine voting in the 2021 Presidential and Early Parliamentary Elections was largely successful despite logistical challenges. Significantly, the OSCE's statement acknowledges that machine voting prevented the possibility of casting an invalid or blank ballot, emphasizing the effectiveness of this technology in fostering more valid voter participation.

International observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), also praised the impact of voting machines, describing it as "positive" and underscoring their role in eliminating invalid ballots, which has been an ongoing issue in prior elections.

However, the advancements in Bulgaria's voting technology landscape have been somewhat overshadowed by disinformation campaigns. Particularly during the 2021 elections, representatives from the GERB party made several allegations of machine manipulation without presenting any substantiating evidence. These unsubstantiated claims have fueled skepticism and have potentially hampered the public's trust in the efficacy and integrity of the voting machines.

The spread of election disinformation linked to voting technology in Bulgaria appears to be driven by political agendas. During the 2022 Bulgarian general election, Goran Georgiev of Sofia’s Center for the Study of Democracy closely observed the unfolding events. In a marked display of skepticism, GERB’s leader Borisov condemned the employment of voting technology and alleged, without presenting evidence, that unauthorized individuals had manipulated the voting machines. Georgiev highlighted the significance of this election, as it was the first in over a decade where GERB failed to secure a parliamentary majority.

Overall, while electronic voting machines in Bulgaria have demonstrated a notably positive impact on the electoral process, it is crucial for Bulgarian authorities and international stakeholders to address the challenge of disinformation to safeguard the progress made in modernizing elections.