IT is now 2 pm on regional election day in Catalunya, and so far everything is going better than expected.
The most immediate fear before the polling stations opened at 9 am this morning was whether everyone who had been summoned – and obliged by law – to man the voting points would turn up.
More than 34,000 appeals against the summons had been registered by people trying to get out of their obligation due mainly to fears of COVID infection, with many still unprocessed by this morning.
However, although the majority of the appeals had been accepted, initial reports suggested that 97% of polling stations throughout Catalunya had enough staff to open on time.
As the morning wore on, either the designated members of staff or their substitutes turned up, and by 11.30 every single polling station could open with ‘total normality’, according to official reports coming in from Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona and Lleida provinces.
The COVID pandemic has conditioned the whole process, with each sector of population allocated a specific timeframe.
Elderly citizens and others considered to be at high risk from COVID were recommended to cast their vote between 9 am and 12 pm, followed by the general population until 7 pm.
Voters who are COVID-positive, those currently in quarantine and close contacts of infected patients have been asked to use the last hour, until 8 pm, although it seems likely that many polling stations will remain open for longer this year due to delays.
Queues snake around the outside of buildings housing the polling stations, reaching up to half a kilometre long at some points in Barcelona city. Entrance and exit points are clearly separated, with social distancing, masks and hand disinfectant everywhere.
Initial estimates predict a much lower level of participation than in 2017 but higher than initially expected – thanks mainly to the record-breaking number of postal votes cast this year, which increased by more than 380% with regards to previous elections.
However, not everyone is happy with the way things are going.
The Olive Press spoke to voters in the town of La Garriga in Barcelona Province, 30 minutes’ drive from the Catalan capital.
Eloi Millet, a 41-year-old cybersecurity consultant and audit manager, said: “I had been summoned to be on this table, but I appealed because in my job I meet a lot of clients and I can’t afford to get infected with COVID and quarantine for two weeks, as I would lose business.”
Luckily, his was one of the 20,000 appeals to be accepted by the election authorities, and he managed to dodge the summons.
“I wasn’t even going to bother voting, as I disagree with the way it has been organised and none of the candidates represent me; they all say and do things I don’t like.
“In the end I decided to cast a blank ballot, as at least this way it’s counted and represents a protest vote. Abstention doesn’t mean anything.”
As a former member of staff at the same polling station where he was queuing up with his blank vote, Eloi was able to furnish The Olive Press with inside detail that contradicts the official line.
“The antigen tests for staff were voluntary, not obligatory. I follow a Twitter feed with other people who were summoned, and they say a lot of voting points don’t have the proper, licensed facemasks or plastic screens.
“Several places aren’t as big as they should be and aren’t properly ventilated or spaced out. People whose applications to dodge the summons were rejected include cancer patients and their carers, people convalescing from surgery, and people with elderly relatives who are being forced to put themselves at great risk by being here today.”
On a lighter note, voters in the town of Sant Just Desvern (Barcelona) were surprised to find former Catalan president Jose Montilla behind one of the voting tables.
Montilla – head of the Generalitat from 2006 to 2010 – had been summoned as a substitute in case someone didn’t turn up, which turned out to be the case.
More to follow.