The vote abroad: a pending issue for democracy

Nearly 200,000 Catalans live abroad. The size of this community has grown exponentially in the last 6 years, due to the economic crisis and the lack of job opportunities in Spain and Catalonia, especially for youngsters with advanced degrees. Alongside the economic downturn in the south of Europe, the political debate regarding Catalonia’s fitting into Spain has accelerated and several historic occasions for testing support for independence have taken place within a short period of time, including elections and the 9th of November consultation. However, only 7% of the Catalan community living abroad voted in the last Catalan elections in 2012, which is a very poor figure. With this learning experience behind them, Catalan institutions are spreading the word to let more people know about the electoral law, its deadlines and procedures so that the same thing won’t happen again in the 27th of September’s elections.

Voter exercising his right to vote (by ACN)
Voter exercising his right to vote (by ACN) / ACN / Sara Prim

ACN / Sara Prim

September 15, 2015 12:14 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- Only 7% of the 200,000 Catalans living abroad voted in the 2012 Catalan elections. This is a rather poor figure for a community that has grown dramatically during the last six years, due to the economic crisis and the labour market situation in Catalonia and Spain. Alongside the economic downturn and the lack of job opportunities for these people in their hometowns, the debate regarding the political future of Catalonia and the possibility of independence from Spain has accelerated and internationalised. The political agenda in recent years has been filled with many historic dates, regarded with interest worldwide, and milestones such as 2012’s much-anticipated Catalan elections and the 9th of November consultation, both of which have been a test for measuring support on independence but also to check the health of Catalan and Spanish democracy. However, many complaints and past scandals regarding the manipulation of overseas votes in Spanish elections make the vote abroad a pending issue that has to be solved. 

Why is it important to guarantee the vote abroad?

The data indicate that the profile of Catalans abroad is becoming younger, and as such these individuals are often more motivated to participate in the future of their country. The data from 2012 also showed that the vote abroad is more pro-independence than the domestic vote, so those who favour independence have an additional incentive to encourage the participation of Catalans abroad, even more so when the result is so difficult to forecast, as is the case for the upcoming elections on the 27th of September. That is why the Catalan institutions are working hard to avoid confusing situations and informing the community living abroad well in advance of both the deadlines and procedures required in order to exercise their right to vote.

However, the most important thing is that by ensuring the vote abroad, the democracy is more realistic and representative. Those who live abroad have something to say about their country’s future and sometimes it is a critical point of view, as many of them were forced to leave because of the economic situation. Be that as it may, allowing voting from abroad and turning it into an effective and easier process is an acid test to check on the proper functioning of Spanish democracy and the way its relationship with Catalonia is regarded worldwide.

A new regulation for voting abroad

The main reason for the low participation in the last Catalan elections was the change of the electoral law, known as LOREG, its initials in Spanish - Organic Law of General Electoral Regime. Approved in 2010, this new regulation turned the vote abroad into a long and confusing process that introduced the ‘requested vote’ concept. It dragged out the whole process and meant more agents being involved. The new regulation and the ‘requested vote’ system was regarded as an obstacle to voters exercising their right and indeed resulted in lower participation in other regional elections, such as the Basque and the Galician ones, also in 2012. Added to this were the many complaints received pointing to the negligence of some civil servants in facilitating procedures, deadlines that were not met and ballots that never reached their destination. With this learning experience behind them, Catalan institutions have gone on the alert well in advance so that the same thing won’t happen again in the upcoming elections on the 27th of September.

A confusing process

The International Federation of Catalan Organisations - FIEC in Catalan - plays an important role in breaking down all the procedures and highlighting the deadlines and information needed in order to vote from abroad. Through its website and using social networks, FIEC spreads the word on how to meet the LOREG’s requirements, which documents are necessary and what steps have to be taken to effectively vote. However, the FIEC has reported on many occasions that the procedures are too confusing and that there are too many agents involved in the process. First, those who want to vote have to make sure they are registered at the proper embassy or consulate and formally request their vote, known as the ‘requested vote’. Then, the Provincial Electoral Boards have to print and send the different ballots to the voter’s domicile and finally the voter has to make his choice and send the ballots back to his country, all this assuming that the postal services involved carry out their deliveries on time.

Today, Catalans who live abroad and want to vote in the 27th of September elections have to choose between three different procedures, according to their administrative status: those who live abroad permanently and are consequently registered; those who live abroad temporarily and are registered as such and those who live abroad permanently or temporarily but aren’t yet registered (whom are then considered as Catalan citizens living in Catalonia).

CERA: Catalans living abroad permanently

Those Catalans who live abroad permanently have to be registered on the CERA, the Register of Absent Residents, in order to vote. First, they have to apply to vote. Then, the Electoral Roll Office automatically sends the form to effectively apply to vote, known as the ‘requested vote’. Alternatively, this form can be obtained from their consulate or online through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, the National Institute of Statistics’ website or the Catalan Parliament website. Once the voter has this form, he or she has to fill it in, sign it and send it, together with a photocopy of the voter’s ID, by post or fax. The deadline for this first step was the 29th of August. The voter then receives all the ballots from the Electoral Roll Office and casts their vote. Once they have decided, the ballots have to be sent by registered post to the consulate by the 22th of September. Alternatively, they can personally deliver their vote to their consulate between the 23th and the 25th of September.

ERTA: Catalans living abroad temporarily

This register is for those Catalans who are abroad temporarily or on holidays in another country on election day. To make the application, the voter must be registered with the Consular Registry as a non-resident, which can be done at the same time they personally fill in the application form at a consular office or the consular section of an embassy. Once registered, they have to request the documentation required to vote from abroad. The period for submitting it ended on the 29th of August. Then, the voter receives all the ballots from the Electoral Roll Office and casts their vote. The ballot papers have to be sent by registered post to the Electoral Roll Office by the 23th of September.

Catalans abroad not registered

For those Catalans living abroad who aren’t listed on any of these registers, the procedure is the same as for those living in Catalonia: they will need to travel and vote personally on election day or apply for a postal vote, meeting the deadlines and undertaking the procedures required.