Tuesday, 7 September 2010

New rules on voter registration

Received from the AUN:

We have been forewarned of a serious restriction of voter registration procedures to be adopted for the 2011 municipal elections.

A Director General in the Censo Electoral in Madrid has told us that when arrangements are announced in the next few days for voter registration procedures for next year’s municipal elections, they will NOT include a procedure which featured in the voter registration procedures for the 2007 municipal elections and the 2009 European Parliament elections. Voting Application Forms will NOT be sent by post to all voting age, non-Spanish EU citizens registered on the municipal padron. Voting application forms will only be sent to those expats registered on the padron AFTER the May, 2007 local elections.

We consider this is a retrograde step which will greatly reduce the potential number of EU non-Spanish residents who could register to vote. Already the percentage of eligible expats who are registered to vote is very low, in Alicante on average, 10-12%. If 50% of those registered to vote actually vote, participation of non-Spanish EU residents would be so low as to be almost insignificant.

The stated reason for this measure is to save money. However, we believe the amounts involved will be minimal. If the Spanish government really wants to save money on voter registration for non-Spanish EU residents they should automatically include them on the voters list when they register on the padron, which is the procedure for Spanish nationals. This would more closely resemble the obligation in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that EU citizens residing in another EU member state should have the right to vote under the same conditions as the nationals of that state.

The voting application form sent by post some 8 months before the elections to those eligible to register to vote is the most efficient and simple form of voter registration. The application form needs only to be completed and signed and returned postage paid direct to the provincial Censo Electoral. If these forms are not sent to those already on the padron before the last municipal elections in 2007, i.e. during the period when mass expat immigration took place, the great bulk of resident expats will not receive them. After May, 2007, with the onset of the crisis, it is likely that relatively few new residents will have registered on the municipal padron.

If the procedure for sending the voter application form by post is to be so severely curtailed, it will effectively leave as the only alternative, for the great majority of expats, to register in person at their Town Hall. For many people, for example those of retirement age, this will mean the hassle of a visit to the Town Hall, the uncertainty of documentation requirements and the prospect of language and communication difficulties. It will not facilitate high levels of voter registration. (In principle those registering on the padron should simultaneously be asked if they wish to register to vote: the fact that voter registration percentages are so low indicates that Town Halls are not doing their job and cannot be trusted in this politically sensitive area.)

We were told that those who were registered on the padron before 2007 will already have received voter application forms in the past and if they had not registered it was because they did not want to. This is a harsh judgement and does not allow for expats to change their minds, for example when they become more aware of the issues and want to influence local governance.

It is also a refusal to acknowledge the phenomenon of “devoluciones”, the return of voting application forms which Correos were not able to deliver. This happens on a large scale. Orihuela Costa is a prime victim. In the autumn of 2006 we were told that 12,500 voting application forms had been returned undelivered, nearly 75% of the total sent. The reason for this massive non-delivery of voting application forms is because Orihuela Costa did not have at the time an official address system. Street names and house numbers were those provided by developers and did not correspond to padron addresses to which the Censo Electoral sent voter application forms. Orihuela Town Hall had not even modified an out of date post code. Since 2008, after legal action and a Petition to the European Parliament, Orihuela Costa now has a physical address system which largely corresponds to padron addresses. The bombshell is that the 12,500 who were on the padron before May, 2007 will not receive voter application forms this time either.

The phenomenon of “devoluciones” is not unique to Orihuela Costa. In October-November, 2006, we saw with our own eyes in the Alicante office of the Censo Electoral trays full, literally thousands of returned undelivered voting application forms from elsewhere in Alicante province. We can only assume that similar address problems or postal unreliability were the explanation.

We know that your principal concern in AUN is with urban abuses but a great majority of these problems probably arise from corruption or bad governance by local Town Halls. More effective participation by expats in local government would be a way of controlling such abuses – politicians listen to voters. More effective participation begins with greatly increasing voter registration.

The latest decision, if confirmed, will not contribute to greater voter registration by expats. This consequence must be realised by the government – we have emphasised it with our contact in Madrid. He told us that there would be no announcement of this restriction, it would simply be observed in practice. However, the Censo Electoral would study the situation in the three weeks or so after the announcement, later this week, of the general arrangements. Implicitly, there would seem to be a possibility of a change of position depending on the reaction. However, by not announcing the restriction and perhaps not making it explicit in any published regulations, they are not facilitating any critical reaction!

We are so concerned by this retrograde measure that we plan to launch a media protest involving local, national and international media, letters to EU Ambassadors in Madrid, Ombudsmen and if there is a base, legal action and action with the European Parliament. We are also contemplating a demonstration in front of the office of the Censo Electoral in Alicante. This will involve a lot of activity in the next 3 weeks.

1 comment:

  1. I don't really see this as an issue. Those Europeans who wish to vote next May should ensure that they will be able to do so. Check in the ayuntamiento.
    The Spanish are keen to get other nationalities to vote - of course for the PSOE - and have enfranchised residents from Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and (in what can only be described as a 'mad moment') New Zealand.