Significant turnout drop in Catalan election – preliminary figures
45.6% voters cast ballot by 6pm, but morning voting was for those at-risk of Covid and mail-in vote is higher this year
The first preliminary figures show that the Catalan election turnout will drop significantly compared to 2017.
By 6pm, 45.6% of voters had cast their ballot, approximately 22 percentage points lower than three years ago, when an all-time high of 80% voters had their say by the time the polling stations closed at 8pm.
Yet, the first preliminary figures of 2017 and 2021 can hardly be compared – it has to be taken into account that this year's much higher mail-in vote is not included in these figures and the fact that until noon only people with a higher risk of Covid-19 were advised to vote.
Of the four constituencies, Girona has seen the highest turnout so far (47.1%), followed by Lleida (46.2%), Barcelona (45.9%), and Tarragona (42.8%).
Over 5.6 million are eligible to vote, including some 250,000 Catalans living abroad, with polling stations open from 9am to 8pm on Sunday.
Minor delays in polling station set-up
Two out of three polling places across the country opened on time on Sunday morning, but some minor delays were reported, especially in Barcelona and its metropolitan area.
At 11.15am the foreign minister, Bernat Solé, whose department is in charge of running the vote, confirmed that all polling places were up and running.
Earlier, at around 10am, Solé made assurances that "today's election will take place as normal" because the incidents reported were typical of any election day. "We're at the same point as in 2017: 97.4% of polling places are set up now, it was 97% at 10am in 2017." he said.
Election amid Covid-19
This is no ordinary election for Catalonia, which has recorded more than 20,000 Covid-related deaths during the pandemic.
The government has assured the public that voting is safe, despite deciding to postpone the election beyond February 14, a decision that was overturned in court.
Safety measures are in place in polling stations, while several larger spaces such as markets and sports centers are being used for the first time to avoid overcrowding. There is also an app 'Eleccions 14F' which can tell voters how busy polling stations are.
In addition, people at higher risk from coronavirus are advised to cast their ballot between 9am and 12 noon, while those in quarantine – around 96,000 according to the Catalan Department of Health – have been told to vote between 7pm and 8pm, during which time election officers will be wearing PPE.
An exit poll at 8pm will give an early indication of the electorate's choices, but the morning's delays, as well as Covid-19 safety protocols, will mean slower counting than usual. Most likely, the outcome will not be clear by around 10pm, as it would be on a normal election night.