13 SEPTEMBER, 2010
NO VOTE NO VOICE SETBACK
SPANISH GOVERNMENT DECIDES TO SEVERELY CURTAIL VOTING REGISTRATION POSSIBILITIES FOR EU RESIDENTS IN SPAIN
A decision by the voter registration office (Censo Electoral) in Madrid announced in the Official Bulletin on 7 September, 2010 will severely curtail voting registration possibilities for next year’s local elections for those European Union citizens (majority British) resident in Spain since before 2007. This is a serious setback for the No Vote No Voice integration campaign being enthusiastically promoted by civic groups and local media, with official support from the British Ambassador in Madrid and Consulates in Spain.
Contrary to the procedure followed in previous local (and European Parliament) elections, those EU residents on the municipal register (padron) before the last local elections in May, 2007 WILL NOT receive a voting application form by post which simply needs to be signed and returned postage paid to the Censo Electoral. Whatever their circumstances, whether they have health, mobility or transport problems and without being sure of their rights and the documentation needed, they will have to go personally to their local Town Hall to fill in a voting application form.
It is obvious that this restriction will affect the great majority of EU citizens who moved to Spain and took up residence in the boom years before the present crisis began in 2007. It is, therefore, a deliberate and targeted decision which will result in the number of EU citizens registered to vote being kept at the present very low levels. It will introduce discrimination between those who were registered on the padron after the 2007 local elections, who will receive the voting application form by post and those registered on the padron before 2007 who will not. It will also discriminate between EU citizens who have been resident in Spain since before 2007 and, for example, citizens of Norway and those of mainly Latin American countries who will be able to vote next year and who will soon receive their voting application forms by post. It will also widen the gap between voting registration facilities for the Spanish, who are automatically registered on the voters list when they register on the padron, and the non-Spanish, long term EU residents who are going to lose a very important facility to enable them to register to vote.
The stated reason for this restriction is to save money by limiting the number to whom the voting application form is sent by post. The justification used is that those on the padron before 2007 will previously have received voting application forms by post and if they have not registered to vote, they are not interested. This is a particularly harsh judgment. It flies in the face of incontrovertible evidence that in previous years, for various reasons and sometimes on a massive scale, voting application forms sent by post were not received and were returned undelivered by the post office to the Censo Electoral. The most striking example of this occurrence was in Orihuela Costa in Alicante where some 12,500 voting application forms (75% of those sent) were returned undelivered. (It is equally certain that many of the remaining 25% also failed to reach addressees but were not formally returned as undelivered.) The consequence of the present decision to curtail voting registration facilities will mean that those people who, for no fault of their own, failed to receive the voting application form for the 2007 local elections, will not receive it this time either. Instead of taking action to improve the efficiency of the voter application by post facility, the Censo electoral is going to eliminate hundreds of thousands of people from the facility altogether.
The argument that it is sufficient to have sent the voting application form in the past also ignores the right of long term EU residents to change their mind and decide to register to vote for next year’s elections if they have become more interested in and more integrated in the life of their local communities. They should be encouraged rather than discouraged to do so.
The decision of the Spanish government to restrict the facilities for voter registration for long term EU residents is a complete denial of the government’s proclaimed policy of promoting integration. The government has been notably lacking in its support for EU citizens who have been the victims of land and urban abuses in Spain. Now they are taking a deliberate backward step which will hinder integration. It is an incomprehensible decision at a time when, often because of corruption in local government, Spain’s reputation as a destination for residential tourism and a haven for the purchase of holiday homes is under severe criticism. Greater participation in the political process by EU expats living in Spain, who are so often the victims, would surely be an effective means of helping prevent the causes of urban abuses.
The justification of saving money is most unconvincing. Since the whole voter registration machinery of the Censo Electoral remains intact and will function for all but the long term EU residents, the only saving will be the postage. How can such a meagre saving be envisaged at the expense of the hundreds of thousands of EU residents who have contributed so much to the Spanish economy by their investment in property, payment of taxes and their daily consumption of Spanish goods and services?
The Spanish government is obliged by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as well as European and Spanish law, to guarantee the right to vote of EU citizens resident in Spain in local and European Parliament elections “under the same conditions” as Spanish nationals. Now, the Spanish government is taking a deliberate and serious step away from this obligation.
It is hoped that this retrograde decision will be opposed by EU citizens resident in Spain and the hundreds of civic groups which they have created. They should protest by all means possible: in the media, local, national and international, with their Ambassadors in Madrid, the national Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) and directly to the provincial office of the Censo Electoral (telephone number of the Alicante office 901 101 900) seeking information and, if possible an exemption from this harsh decision. The possibility of legal action is being urgently studied.
It is not too late to reverse this mean, unfair and damaging decision. If the Spanish government gets away with it this time, who knows what they will do in the future not only in relation to voting rights but perhaps padron rights more generally – a policy with disquieting implications called “limpieza del padron”, clearing up the padron, has already been started.
To reverse the decision will require an urgent, serious and determined effort on the part of many people. It is an effort worth making.