Bulgarian citizens vote to change status quo

Editor's note: Along with this piece, we are featuring our first original graphic. It was made by Savina Radeva exclusively for Global Young Voices. See more of Radeva's work here.

On Oct. 25, almost 70 percent of Bulgarian citizens who participated in a national referendum voted in favor of electronic voting. The referendum, set by Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, said: "Do you support that remote electronic voting is also enabled when holding elections and referendums?"

Recently, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated that nearly 2 million Bulgarian citizens live abroad. As a percentage of the whole population (7,186,893 as of July 2015), people beyond the borders of the country stand for the considerable 27.82 percent. Students and young professionals represent a significant segment of the Bulgarians abroad.

Photo credit: Results.cik.bg

Photo credit: Results.cik.bg

Being abroad, people often face difficulties in exercising their basic constitutional right - participating in elections. The example of Dimitar Vouldjieff, 21, an IT student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is a classic one. He had to take a train for 60 km (37 miles) to Newton, Massachusetts in order to cast his vote. He is one of the many people who have to travel numerous kilometers in order to participate in the elections. Moreover, the limited number of sections compared to the huge amount of people abroad leads to massive waiting lines and thus, turns the whole ordeal into a time-consuming and costly process.

However, reaching the "nearest" section at all is often close to impossible. Milcho Kyurkchiev, 25, a graduate student of international business in Shanghai shares his story with Global Young Voices: "About a month before the national referendum I started gathering information where and how I can vote, since I am situated in Shanghai at the moment. The answer I received from the officials is that the nearest place to me is… Seoul, South Korea."

Similar is the situation of Kristina Veleva, 29, entrepreneur and founder of a startup in Peru:
“I live and work in Peru. In order to vote, I was supposed to take a plane for 5 hours to the nearest section in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That was an obstacle that made participating in the elections impossible for me. Actually, I found out that there were only two voting sections in South America.”

Dimitar Vutkov, 26, a manager of store operations, and Todor Gigilev, 28, a managing partner in an IT company, also belong to the category of people who physically were not able to reach the nearest voting station. Dimitar was on a business trip in India, while Todor worked on an IT project in Lebanon.

Enabling online voting, as a complement to the ordinary paper voting, would not only provide an easy solution in such cases, but also increase the accessibility of elections to disabled people within the country.

Another positive aspect of online voting is that in the long-term it will significantly cut the costs related to organizing elections, by reducing the number of physical voting stations. A reasonable hypothesis is that people will keep adopting digital devices in their everyday life.

Graphic credit: Savina Radeva/GYV

Hence, participating in such events via the Internet seems like a perfectly normal thing in the near future. A very good example here is the national population census held in 2011. More than 41 percent of the Bulgarian population preferred to took part in it online. This is good news for the taxpayers, as a huge amount of money could be saved.

Last but not least, online voting has the potential to be used as a tool for attracting the interest in politics of thousands young people who are tech geeks, but often negatively labeled as apolitical.

On the opposite site, there are people who are against the online voting. Their main concerns are related to possible hacking of the technology behind online voting, other security issues and the possibility of breaching anonymity of the vote. However, there are countries (e.g. Estonia, France, Switzerland, Canada, India etc.) that have already proven these concerns groundless.

The results of the referendum went beyond the minimum barrier and thus, brought the question to the agenda of the parliament. The next step is for Bulgarian deputies to start the debate over online voting, followed by poll for or against it. It is very important now that society very carefully observes the parliament’s actions. Because facts are obvious: allowing such a significant amount of people to participate in elections via the Internet would increase the future turnout. Hence, an important step towards changing the Bulgarian political status quo would be done. Seems like a high stakes game.

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.
— George Bernard Shaw

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated that "70 percent of Bulgarian citizens voted in favor of electronic voting." It has now been fixed because, in fact, Bulgarian citizens who "participated in a national referendum" about e-voting voted in favor of it.