Local elections: how they work, when results will be out, how mayors are appointed

All key facts of May 28 votes held in the 947 municipalities across Catalonia

A polling in Tarragona stating during the 2019 elections
A polling in Tarragona stating during the 2019 elections / Mar Rovira
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

May 13, 2023 10:28 AM

Local elections in Catalonia are just around the corner. On Sunday, May 28, over five million people will cast their ballot and decide who will be the next mayor of their city, town, or village. Overall, there are 947 municipalities in Catalonia. In some cases, it is already known who the winner of these elections will be because there is only one party running, but the majority will have to wait patiently to find out.


But why May 28, and how often?

Local elections in Spain are always on the same day, according to Spanish electoral law. The legislation states that municipalities across Spain will choose their next mayor on the fourth Sunday of May.

The law also lays out that on Saturday 27, there will be an election blackout, and the electoral campaign starts on May 12 and finishes at midnight on Friday night, May 26.

Local elections take place every four years and cannot be repeated.

At what time are results expected to come in?

Voting on May 28 in Catalonia starts at 9 am and finishes at 8 pm. While results will take some time in the largest towns and cities, others will already know who the next mayor will be even before polls open, as there is only one candidate to vote for. Some municipalities have been voting for the same politician for over four decades.

At 8 pm sharp, once polling stations close, local media outlets will publish exit polls, at least for Barcelona.

At that time, votes cast will begin to be counted, and the results of all Catalan municipalities should be clear around 11 pm.

Does the candidate with the most votes become mayor?

Not necessarily. Those candidates that get an absolute majority will not have any trouble being voted in as the mayor during the first plenary session to be held in each municipality on June 17. If they fail short of a majority, however, things will get more complicated.

If there is no absolute majority, candidates look for support to become the next mayor. If still none of them are able to get an absolute majority, the leader of the political party with more votes automatically becomes the new mayor.

Can a mayor be ousted or call for snap elections?

Yes, and no. Once a mayor, always a mayor, unless they willingly step down or the opposition forms an alternative majority and calls for a motion of no confidence. 

In that case, if the motion succeeds, the candidate that has led the move will take on the role of mayor. And no, the politician will not be able to call for snap elections, as local elections take place every four years according to the law, and only the Spanish government, ratified by Spain's king, can call local elections.

Can a party get votes but not get any seats in the city council?

Indeed, this happens all the time. In Barcelona, for example, there are over 20 political parties, but only seven got enough votes in 2019 to be part of the plenary.

In Spain, all electoral processes use the D'Hondt method to distribute seats in proportion to the number of votes obtained by each political party.

Legislation states that parties need to gain at least 5% of votes cast (including blank ballots) in a municipality in order to have the possibility of gaining a seat. The candidates with fewer votes are rejected to avoid having a very divided plenary.

What happens with the smallest towns in Catalonia?

All towns in Catalonia will vote on May 28, either deciding between many political parties or only one. However, in those municipalities with less than 250 inhabitants, there will be "open candidacies," meaning that voters will choose five people to be the next city council. If the town has less than 100 inhabitants, voters get to decide on three representatives. Any of them can be the mayor.

Who can vote in local elections?

All Spanish citizens aged 18 and older, as well as non-Spanish nationals who are residents from the EU and the 13 countries with reciprocity agreements with Spain: Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Iceland, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. 

In 2023, a total of 67,379 foreigners from these countries registered to vote, over 95% of which are European, with Italian, Romanian, and French residents topping the list.