Election drill: health protocols tested as election workers opt out en masse
A quarter of randomly selected poll workers across Catalonia request replacement
Health protocols for the February 14 election are already being tested at several polling stations.
Drills to test election day health and safety protocols were carried out in towns such as Sant Julià de Ramis, near the northern town of Girona.
A one-way walking system for voters, hand sanitizer at the entrance, and ensuring safety distances are kept in lines were among the rules rehearsed.
Poll workers also practiced using safety screens, FFP face masks and gowns, full PPE equipment needed especially for the 7 pm to 8 pm slot, reserved for Covid-positive voters, their close contacts and others who may have the disease.
Participants were given a guide on the measures, with some of them acting as voters and others as election workers – the job they will all have to perform on February 14, if they turn up.
Fears of an insufficient number of randomly selected citizens to work the polls and allow the election to go ahead are growing.
21,000 people opt out
Any citizen between the ages of 18 and 70 can be selected to be a poll worker on election day, and, unless they have a justifiable reason exempting them from carrying out their civic duty, their presence at voting stations is mandatory.
But the upcoming Catalan election is an election like no other. For a vote on a normal year, the Barcelona election board may have around 1,000 people or even less attempting to opt out of working the polls, but this year, with the pandemic, they have received over 8,000 petitions. Across Catalonia, over 21,000 people have requested it, around a quarter of the total number of required poll workers.
The election board is reviewing each of these cases individually and has been, on average, rejecting 60% of requests as they only accept those of petitioners who are high-risk or live with someone who is.
What if not enough polling workers show up?
The election board is preparing mechanisms to ensure that the vote goes ahead everywhere, even if those obliged to turn up – and who face possible prosecution if they do not – do not do so, including those who have already had their opt out requests denied.
Every polling site needs three people per station, who must also welcome voters, while nine people (six of them replacements in case they are needed), are summoned. This means that if seven of them do not show up, problems could arise.
The Barcelona region electoral authority established on Friday that replacement poll workers not required at a station could, for the first time, be relocated to another one, preferably within their town of residence.
First voters potentially told to stay all day
This decision seems to guarantee the election will be able to go ahead, but the law establishes what happens as a last resort if there is a widespread lack of poll workers: the first people casting their ballots at the polling site would be told to stay all day and act as election workers.
Yet, this clashes with the recommended schedule set up by the Catalan government that advises those particularly at risk if infected to vote from 9 am to 12 pm.
On Friday, Barcelona’s local electoral authority requested to have this schedule changed so that the first to vote are those less vulnerable to suffering severe Covid-19 symptoms (they have, up until now, been advised to turn up from 12 pm to 7 pm, with those who are positive, their close contacts and those who might have the virus told to use the last hour).
Some local councils, in charge of randomly selecting election workers, are already organizing extra raffles and setting up lists of volunteers who would be willing to stay all day for €65 to €90.
Worst case scenario, voting at a polling station unable to operate would be postponed until Tuesday, February 16, as established by the law.