SPAIN’S Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez surprised everyone on Monday, when he called an early general election for July 23 after his Socialist Party’s poor showing at the regional and local polls on Sunday. The news was surprising not least for the choice of date: this will be the first time Spaniards have been called to vote in the middle of summer.
The date falls at a time when 40% of Spaniards will be on vacation, according to Spanish daily El Pais. This is likely to mean a record number of ballots cast by post, but also will cause headaches for many of the voters who will be called up to man the polling stations across the country.
Risk of prison
Registered voters are chosen at random to man polling booths during Spanish elections, whether they are national, local or regional.
Failure to turn up on the day is a serious offence that can be punished with a jail term of three months to one year, or a fine.
The electoral board in each area will be responsible for considering the excuses that Spanish voters offer if they are unable to serve as voting officials on July 23. But according to El Pais, having a holiday booked for that date is not a sure-fire way to get out of the responsibility.
To request permission, those called up to man the polling stations will have to provide all kinds of documentation to prove that they have a trip booked, as well as receipts and so on to prove that missing the holiday would mean financial loss.
Spain’s Organization of Consumers and Users, a non-profit consumer rights group, is calling on the electoral boards to be flexible given the circumstances.
Many Spanish voters will no doubt opt to cast their ballots by post at the July 23 elections. But this will not get people out of their duty to man polling stations. Voting by post is no excuse for failing to turn up.
What excuses will be accepted?
According to El Confidencial, the only way to get out of manning a polling station is if you have to work on electoral boards, in the courts or in the public administration; if you are an essential worker such as a firefighter; and if you are a director or manager in a media outlet such as a newspaper.
Family reasons are also accepted, such as mothers who are breastfeeding a baby under the age of nine months; people who are caring for children aged under eight or a disabled person; and family events such as weddings, provided there is a close family tie.
Aside from the problems that will be faced by election staff, there is the issue of the heat. July 23 falls around the hottest time of the year, with average temperatures of 33ºC in Madrid and 37ºC in Seville, according to newspaper La Vanguardia, and very little chance of rain.
It won’t be until the elections are held that turnout figures will show whether the summer date for the general elections have had an effect. But perhaps a fall in voter numbers was behind Pedro Sanchez’s decision to call the summer polls in the first place…