One in four requests exemption from electoral duties

Facing a wave of excuses, the electoral administration is looking for "volunteers".

3 min
Operaris of the municipal workshops of Barcelona prepare the electoral amterial, this Wednesday morning

BarcelonaOver 20,000 people (25% of the total) have requested to be exempted from their electoral duty to man polling stations, according to the latest data from the district electoral boards. This now includes data from, among others, L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Tarragona, Lleida and Girona. In Barcelona alone, as of Wednesday, 8,000 requests had already been registered. And this, according to the president of the board, Santiago García, represents a "real problem" in terms of constituting polling stations on 14 February. In two interviews, the first on RAC1's El món and the second on TV3's Planta baixa, García said on Wednesday that, faced with the avalanche of applications, they are even considering looking for "volunteers" to form part of the polling stations. This is also one of the alternatives for other area boards with similar problems. The Catalan Ombudsman has called for this alternative to be ruled out due to its lack of "legal guarantees".

Barcelona's district board has accumulated the most objections (8,000), followed by L'Hospitalet (1,300), Granollers (1,106), Terrassa (1,100), Sant Feliu de Llobregat (1,085) and Sabadell (1,012). After a few days of changing figures, these numbers are now close to the actual numbers, although the councils of Mataró, Figueres, la Bisbal and Olot have yet to report data. The list is completed by Arenys de Mar (648), Vic (463), Igualada (384), Vilanova i la Geltrú (356), Vilafranca del Penedès (245) and Berga (166) in the Barcelona region. In the Tarragona region, the Reus council is the one with the most requests (687), followed by Tarragona (666), Tortosa (430), El Vendrell (336), and Valls (191). In the case of Lleida, the capital (576) is followed by Balaguer (204), Cervera (144), Tremp (115), La Seu d'Urgell (99), and Viella (32). Finally, in Girona province, it is Girona city that has the most (668), followed by Santa Coloma de Farners (410) and Puigcerdà (156). The data correspond, then, to 26 of the 31 zone electoral boards spread throughout Catalonia.

The aim is for all polling stations to have a president and two members by 9 a.m., and the law gives them a great deal of leeway to try to do so. To begin with, they can reject citizens' excuses, and remind them that not turning up at the polling station on 14-F at 8 a.m. could be criminally prosecuted with fines or imprisonment. This is the standard procedure set out in the Organic Law on the General Electoral System (Loreg) which did not contemplate the possibility of a pandemic. This means it didn't consider a scenario where thousands of people requesting dispensation either, nor the real risk that Election Day could begin without all the polling stations having been set up. The law considers two possibilities for granting an exemption. The first is for those over 65, which should be easy enough. The second, for those who cannot fulfil their duty due to medical reasons. This is when the problems start: although all applications need to be accompanied by a doctor's report, the board can still choose not to grant dispensation. This is the case of Jordi, a chronic cancer patient who, as ARA explained, provided the relevant documents from his GP classifying him as "at risk" only for the board to deny his request. His is one of the cases which have been answered, though many are still waiting to hear back from the electoral boards.

The most common way of finding substitutes for those who do not turn up is at the polling station itself. The Loreg grants power to area boards to choose the substitutes, "and may even order any of the voters who is present to man the polling station". "The fact that the first to arrive is the first to stay is not desirable. This should be avoided at all costs. The idea of creating a pool of volunteers seems very reasonable and logical to me", said García, bearing in mind that the Generalitat has recommended that the first voting time slot (from 9 am to 12 noon) should be reserved for the elderly.

To set up this pool of volunteers, boards could ask for help from the Catalan Government or town councils, or also request the intervention of the Central Electoral Board (JEC). For the moment they have not done so, according to executive sources consulted by ARA. The mechanics would consist of having a number of people pre-warned to present themselves at the door of the polling stations at 9am. There is time until 10 a.m. to set up the polling stations, and if it is not possible to do so before then, voting in those where the president or any of the voting officers are absent would be postponed for a maximum of 48 hours.