Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Voting; The unexpurgated version

We did it. We went and voted. An odd experience.

For a start all the candidates, or at least a good number of them, were just hanging around the polling station. I think that in the UK candidates have to stay some set distance from the ballot box but apparently not so in Spain. The current Mayor said hello to us, the second on the list for the centrist party had to step aside to let us pass, the socialist party candidate, our pal Eli, did the cheek kissing thing and a woman on the conservative list who I'd talked to at one of the meetings explained which table I needed to go to. That was a bit disconcerting because I felt there was a touch of personal pressure even for someone as unknown as Maggie and I; it must be really tricky if you're friends with one of the candidates but aren't a big fan of their policies.

The system is actually simple enough. Each of the parties, five in our case, puts forward a list of candidates. The list is printed on white paper for the town elections. There is a similar list, printed on sepia paper, for the district elections. As European citizens we only have the right to vote in the local elections. We take along our voting card, prove that it's ours by showing some form of ID and then pop our list of names, inside an envelope (again white for the locals and sepia for the district), into the transparent ballot box. Then we're done.

One complication was that in their election pamphleteering the various candidates provides the white lists and envelopes to make it easier for you to vote for them. I didn't understand, beforehand, how that could work. Could I simply pop along to the voting station and drop my ready prepared list into the ballot box? If I could then I could make multiple votes depending on how many lists I'd managed to get my hands on. However,as you turn up at your voting table the person in charge of the voting table ensures that you have the right to vote and that you only place the number and type of votes that you are entitled to into the ballot box.

Voters are allocated a voting table based on where they live and what their name is, a neutral person administers the table. This meant that Maggie and I had to go to different tables in different rooms. We had to face the system alone. I went to my table, told them who I was and proved it was me with my passport. They expected me to have my voting envelope ready to go into the box. I'd expected, like the UK system, to be given my ballot paper as I handed over my voter registration card. No problem though, I just went to the curtained off voting booth where I collected the white candidate list, put it inside my white envelope. I was then allowed to put my single vote into the local ballot box. If I had tried to put more than one list (say for two different parties) into the same envelope my vote would be void. If I put two or more lists for the same party into my envelope that would be checked by the returning officer but considered to be one vote for the party list. It is also possible to put a blank piece of paper inside the envelope to show that you don't want to vote for any of the candidates. If those blank votes were to outnumber the votes cast for the actual candidates I think that the election has to be re-run.

On her table Maggie had a problem in that they wanted her ID and she didn't see why they needed that when she had the voter registration card. In the UK the card is considered to be proof of identity. They compounded the difficulty by asking specifically for her Residencia (see the earlier blog about how we can't get one anymore) rather than simply asking for ID but she got to vote OK in the end.

The only difficulty I had was with my name. In the UK there is often someone outside the polling station who asks to see your card. I presume they're just checking turnout. In Spain there is someone from each party on the voting table each with their list of registered voters. Probably the idea is that if they know old such and such will vote for them and if s/he hasn't turned up towards the end of the voting day they send someone around to bring them in to vote. So each of the five party reps was trying to work out what I was called; it's all to do with Spaniards having two surnames. The alphabetical lists are based on the first of those two surnames. Ricardo Perez Brotons, for instance, would be listed under P for Perez. So they were not only trying to work out the spelling of my (for them) very complicated name but they were also scouring the Js for Christopher John Thompson. Fortunately my Spanish held together and it all became a bit of a laugh.

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