The end of the pleaded vote: “There is an improvement and a willingness to help voters” residing outside of Spain

“I voted without any problem, everything arrived on time and well in advance and I sent my vote by mail,” María Almena, a Toledo native who has lived in France for 10 years, told Almena explains that she has voted other years in many elections with much more difficulties compared to the regional elections of 28M.

The regional elections last May were the first in which Spaniards residing abroad voted after the repeal of the requested vote last year, which had been weighing down the foreign vote since the PP and PSOE introduced the rule in 2011.

Almena especially remembers the 2019 general elections, when she voted in person at the Spanish consulate and then traveled to Spain and was able to attend in person. to the count of the Provincial Electoral Board: “I realized that my vote did not arrive, I did not appear on the list of voters. It was a lost vote due to a diplomatic bag that did not arrive on time due to the strict and inflexible deadlines that existed”.

From the Marea Granate collective, a transnational network of Spanish migrants, Berta Burguete explained to that the requested vote generated a “bottleneck” that greatly delayed the process until the ballots arrived, “many times late or after the elections,” as in the case of Almena.

“The people who live abroad had to beg for the fundamental right to vote. In recent times there was a telematic platform to ask for the vote, but before we had to do it by fax, which was difficult to find, or by ordinary letter. This request went to the INE, which authorized or not the vote and, when the ballots were available, they were sent to the people authorized to vote ”, he details.

The first time without asking for the vote

In the 28M elections, “some voices said that it had been useless (eliminating the requested vote) because participation had been very low. What happens is that the regional elections do not have the same convening power as the general ones”, says the spokeswoman for Marea Granate. A report carried out by the organization shows that participation reached levels higher than the 2019 elections and “very similar” to the levels prior to the 2011 reform, when the requested vote was introduced.

The number of Spaniards residing abroad who voted in the regional elections doubled compared to previous elections in the same communities. On May 28, more than 71,609 ballots arrived from abroad, corresponding to 6.7% of the 1,055,653 voters registered in the Electoral Census of Absent Residents (CERA) in the communities where the elections were held and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

This figure doubled that registered in the previous regional elections (in 2019, although they were held in Madrid in 2021), in which 35,843 people voted abroad out of a total of 951,558 (3.7% of voters). Most of the territories have seen the number of voters abroad double, but the ones where participation increased the most are Asturias (from 2,623 to 7,329), Madrid (from 20,103 to 28,833), the Valencian Community (from 2,370 to 10,87) and the Canary Islands (from 1,665 to 6,658), according to data from the Central Electoral Board.

Previously, “we received a large number of inquiries about how to perform the procedure,” says the spokeswoman for Marea Granate. “This is over because it is the State that writes to you first and tells you what you have to do.”

With the elimination of the request, it takes less time to receive the first shipment with the voting envelopes, according to the group. Once the lists are resolved, the ballots are sent, which can also be downloaded in case they do not arrive or arrive late (one of the novelties introduced by the reform). In addition, if the first shipment arrives, there is the possibility of going to the consulate to download the certificates and collect the ballots.

“There is an improvement and a will”

Almena’s experience indicates that, in the Spanish consulates, “there is an improvement and a willingness to help voters, to provide documentation.” “In the previous elections (of 28M) it was the first time that I did not have the feeling of chasing the postman, of being aware of the ballots, of monitoring the shipments at the INE…”.

Even so, the woman misses an exercise in transparency, so that voters can keep track of their vote and know if it has arrived and has been included in the scrutiny. In short, be sure that her vote counts. “There are many more facilities now, although there are still limitations and people who are left without voting,” laments Almena.

Guillermo Díaz has not wanted to vote in the two appointments this year: “I have not voted by choice, but the ballots reached the time limit,” says this Cantabrian resident in the United Kingdom. He assures that he has not noticed “any difference” with the general and regional elections of 2019 and that this year he knew that the consulate offered the possibility of printing the ballots, by “word of mouth” and not because that information was publicized.

For her part, Ana Zieleman, who has lived in the Netherlands all her life with her family, affirms in this newspaper that she was able to vote normally on this occasion, as in the previous general elections, when the requested vote was still in force: “The envelopes have always arrived at our homes and there are instructions on how to vote.”

Rely on the postal service

The process has improved with the repeal of the requested vote, but Spaniards residing abroad continue to face difficulties when it comes to exercising their right. The dependence on the postal service, in countries where it is more deficient, causes the ballots to arrive late or not at all.

Silvia Aijón, who is currently volunteering for the European Union in Romania, says that she was not well informed and the deadline to vote in the May elections expired. Facing the general meetings this Sunday, she called the Spanish Embassy in Bucharest and “everything was easier.” After almost four weeks of waiting, the ballots arrived on Thursday, July 13, and on Monday, July 17, she mailed them from a post office in Sighișoara.

However, at the post office they told him that they could not assure him that he would arrive on time: “Even though it is certified and prioritized, no one assures us that they will arrive.”

Among the main problems cited by voters are the distances to the consulate or the process for temporary residents. Also the consular registration barrier, the first step to be able to vote abroad, which requires physically presenting yourself at the Spanish consulate.

From Marea Garnet they denounce that the decree that regulates the procedure for people who are temporarily abroad has not been modified: “It is something urgent that must be resolved.” Likewise, there are people who have been abroad for a while and do not know that they must register with the consulate, and “they remain in limbo since they cannot vote either as temporary or permanent residents,” according to Burguete.

Distances and additional costs

The case of Antonio Guillén is singular, because he was denied the vote on 28M. “I requested to vote on time, a month and a half in advance, and I received a letter after a month, with a couple of weeks to go before the elections, telling me that I could not vote,” explains the Spaniard who was in London doing a PhD stay. In the letter they did not indicate what procedure he should follow, they simply informed him that his vote had been denied.

“I have not voted, not because I did not want to,” he regrets, although he admits that if he had gone to the Spanish Embassy in London, he could have solved the problem and voted, but he did not do so due to lack of time and because of how far the diplomatic legation is in the capital of the United Kingdom.

Inés Jiménez, who studied in Amsterdam and now works in that Dutch city, told that the Spanish Embassy is in The Hague, while in Amsterdam there is only a “very small” consulate that opens from 09:00 to 14:00 local time. “It coincides with my working day, but I have the privilege of having flexible hours,” she adds. She explains that a booth has been set up to request the vote for the general elections, but not in the regional elections.

Once he registered at the Consulate, when the ballots arrived, Jiménez had to send them by certified mail: “It is true that there is a refund receipt, but when I went to request the vote for 23J I asked the officials how the refund was requested. One of them told me that he had been voting several times from abroad and had never received the money.

“The cost is nine euros, but even if it were two euros. The fact that you have to pay to vote … ”, she laments. Transport is added to the shipping costs for those people who do not live in Amsterdam or The Hague and which he assures is “very high”. “For example, from Amsterdam to The Hague it can be 16 euros round trip by train”, which can discourage more than one voter.

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