The penalty for failing to turn up for electoral duty: a lottery between prison sentence and fine

Those who go to trial can end up with a criminal record or paying thousands of euros, despite the fact that most cases are dropped

2 min
Election months to the municipal and European elections of 2019

BarcelonaThree people will have to go to Barcelona's High Court next week because in the municipal and European elections of May 26, 2019 they were called on to fulfil their electoral duty by manning a poll station and, according to the Prosecutor's Office, failed to turn up. In all three cases the prosecutor requests they pay a fine, but the amounts are nothing alike: in one case it is €2,700, in another €4,500 and in the third €7,200, despite the fact that they all allegedly committed the same crime: not turning up without justification. This disparity reflects that there is no homogeneous criterion of the Prosecutor's Office - nor of the courts - on this crime, which makes it feel like Russian roulette.

"The jurisprudence of the electoral crimes is very heterogeneous", describes Carme Herranz, a lawyer at Col·lectiu Ronda. In spite of the fact that there are other possible electoral crimes, 99% of the Public Prosecutor's Office's accusations are for not turning up. Herranz admits that the cases that go to trial are those that "have no irregularities in the administrative process". That is, cases in which it can be shown that people were notified that it was their duty and then did not comply. But she adds that there is a murky area around eight o'clock in the morning, when the poll stations have to be constituted: "many people are there and there is sometimes a little chaos. It is very important that the person in charge of the school takes note of everybody who has turned up".

The effects of 14-F

70% of the investigations opened by the Barcelona Public Prosecutor's Office for absenting oneself from the table are shelved. They do not prosper because an appeal had been presented and granted or the notification was not received. In cases that go to trial, attempts are made to reach settlements - agreements - to reduce the penalty to a fine. The Public Prosecutor's Office does not know what impact the 14-F elections will have on electoral crimes, especially after the recent avalanche in requests to be exempted from election duty.

Herranz explains that the penalties for not showing up mean having a criminal record and that, although the months of imprisonment that may be involved are "susceptible" to not being served, the suspension of the sentence "is not automatic". She adds that if the fine is not paid, it is replaced by a prison sentence and that electoral offences include a disqualification from voting for a period of time. As for the 14-F, the lawyer predicts that some people who are absent could ask the judges to acquit them by appealing to insurmountable fear for covid-19.