Bulgarians hold conflicting opinions for the upcoming referendum for remote electronic voting in October. Earlier this year Rosen Plevneliev – the president of Bulgaria, proposed three questions for referendums which he considered “topical for the Bulgarian nation” – the introduction of majority voting, compulsory voting, and electronic voting. The members of parliament decided that only the question of e-voting will be part of the referendum. The referendum is going to be held on 25 October.
In a statement to the nation Plevneliev said that e-voting is a step towards the future and the best way of “fighting populism”. Yet, Bulgaria is split into opposing views.
“Referendums are important instruments of direct democracy,” said in an interview Antoaneta Tsoneva, chairperson of the Institute for Public Environment Development, which promotes citizen participation in Bulgarian politics. Tsoneva elaborated that referendums empower people and create a “more real democracy”.
Most of the supporters of e-voting believe that one of the essential benefits of its introduction will be an increase in voting activity. Two out of seven million Bulgarians live abroad and if they have the chance to vote at elections, it is certain that this will raise the voting activity and the results will be a more truthful reflection of the Bulgarians’ political views.
“The Bulgarians who live abroad are one of the basic financial resources to the country because they come back to their country and help it in terms of finances,” Tsoneva added.
Conversely, Stanislav Stanilov, a Bulgarian historian and the deputy leader of the nationalist party – Attack, does not hold the same opinion. “Not many of the Bulgarians living abroad have a sincere attitude towards Bulgaria and its political and social affairs, most of them even never come back,” he stated in an interview. According to him, they are not well aware of the political situation in Bulgaria when they live in another country, thus, they are not reliable voters.
When asked whether e-voting can increase voting activity in general he argued that “if someone wants to vote, they vote, if someone does not want to vote, nothing can change that.” Stanilov furthered that the Bulgarians who live abroad can vote in some other way but he did not specify what this way can be.
When it comes to the possible problems that might arise out of e-voting, Tsoneva claimed that it is “safe enough” and that it is the mechanic voting that has turned out to be easily manipulated in Bulgaria. There were allegations that some political parties bought whole voting sections during last year’s governmental elections.
Stanilov disagrees with that. “E-voting can be easily attacked while the mechanic voting is much safer.”
“The fears of manipulating the e-voting are justified,” elaborated in an interview Dr. Todor Yalumov, a senior analyst at the Centre for Study of Democracy. In terms of technology “this is possible” but in terms of economy it is not because “breaking the security and manipulating this system will cost ways more than buying the elections.”
He also highlighted that e-voting is just an option in addition to the mechanic voting. Furthermore, if e-voting is introduced in Bulgaria, it can be applied not only at a local level but also in governmental elections and referendums and the costs will be much lower than with the paper voting, thus “referendums will be more easily and frequently organized,” he explained.
In a Facebook poll, conducted for the purpose of the article, eight out of ten Bulgarians stated that they would vote with “Yes” but the majority of them are concerned about the transparency of the e-voting implementation. “I understand why most people will vote with ‘Yes’ but I am aware of the corruption scheme in Bulgaria and how all positive ideas fruitful in other countries are corruptly manipulated here,” expressed her opinion in the poll Liliq Grozdanova, a Facebook user.
It is arguable what the outcome of the upcoming referendum will be. Now Bulgarians have the opportunity to enforce their voting rights but whether “Yes” will prevail over “No” will become clear on 25 October.