“Do you support that remote electronic voting is enabled when elections and referendums are held?” Bulgarians were asked this question – and those who voted overwhelmingly said “yes”. The nearly three-quarters majority (72.5 percent) who voted in favour did not make the result binding because it was combined with low voter turnout. However, with last information about voter activity suggesting at least 31.50% of eligible voters took part, the referendum exceeds the threshold of 20% needed to submit the question to Parliament. Lawmakers will now have three months to discuss online voting, but different opinions have emerged about how the proposal should be added to MPs’ agenda. (Add to this the number of people who suspect lawmakers are bent on voting it down). In case e-voting is approved as a legitimate means to take part in elections, it is not clear whether it might be applied to the forthcoming presidential vote next year. A quick look at vote statistics also debunks the myth of “huge interest” in the referendum that eligible voters among the 2 million Bulgarians abroad would show: the Foreign Ministry said only 27 000 had cast a ballot. That expats are eager to help usher in e-voting is not self-evident anymore – a blow to activists who maintained the online method would boost participation, bring back to politics those discouraged people who voted with their feet, and make democracy more legitimate.
Neither is it clear how the method’s efficiency and safety will be guaranteed, having in mind the habit of saying “we” tend to “Bulgarize” any good concept introduced from abroad, be it in technical or socio-cultural terms. Admittedly “we”, whoever this includes, sometimes do. Critics of e-voting add the risk of security breaches and manipulation of both the results and the voting process. Issues such as vote secrecy (called into question by the need to confirm identity), misuse of personal data for corporate voting are yet to be addressed.
Thence, neither the event of passing a motion on e-voting nor its putting into practice and its real effect are quite predictable or have clear implications. But a mandatory introduction of online voting that would have followed a high voter turnout would have made Bulgaria’s political life even less certain in the long-term.