The large Catalan cities plan to face the loss of the polling stations for 14-F with more people in the reserve, who have already entered the initial draw for the census. Barcelona, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Terrassa and Badalona are some of the towns that have opted for this system to guarantee the constitution of electoral colleges.
Until this Thursday, more than 20,000 people had presented excuses to avoid the appointment. In the case of Barcelona, the percentage rises to almost 50%. The electoral boards, meanwhile, face the workload and try to respond to the requests.
Some of the big cities have already begun to notify reservists that they have to appear in schools on F-14 because the excuses admitted would prevent the normal constitution of the tables: president, two members and six substitutes. This is the case of Terrassa, with just over 200 polling stations and where, until yesterday, 1,100 allegations had been presented.
“For several calls we have already included, in the initial draw, more people than the law indicates; and this year it has been increased to 15 per table due to possible eventualities ”, they explain from the consistory.
Barcelona will vote for the first time on 14-F in markets, sports centers or the Barça auditorium. Thousands of citizens ask to be exempted from being part of the polling stations in Catalonia.
“Until 9.00 on 14-F we will not know if the elections in Catalonia are viable”. The same system has been used by L’Hospitalet, which extends the draw to five people per place. Something similar happens in Badalona, where the consistory already knows that the electoral board has admitted, at the moment, 285 requests for excuses.
In Santa Coloma de Gramenet, 1,206 people were summoned to 134 polling stations. At the moment, 422 allegations have been admitted and the substitutes are already being notified. In Barcelona, the initial draw goes far beyond the number required to set up tables: “As the board reports how many excuses it admits, the next on the list will be notified.” On the table of the Barcelona area council there are 8,000 requests for excuses that must be resolved, at most, before 72 hours of election day.
Despite the high number of people who try to avoid the legal obligation, neither the councils nor the Department of Foreign Action, responsible for electoral logistics, believe that there is a real risk to the holding of the elections.
What is missing, on the part of the Generalitat, is that the Central Electoral Board did not give common criteria to be followed by the zone boards. “We raised it, but they answered that each board has its criteria and its vision of the territory,” explain department sources.
The zone electoral boards are in charge of examining and validating the excuses. The general atmosphere these days is one of stress. The workload is high and forces its members to step on the accelerator. In their favor they have the fact that this Friday ends, for the vast majority of those selected, the deadline for allegations.
A non-judicial member of Arenys de Mar (Barcelona) says that some days end after midnight. In the allegations for health reasons, it is necessary that it be accompanied by a medical certificate. In the case of caring for vulnerable family members, the criterion is that they live with that person and depend on them.
The rate of resolution of the cases is of concern, but it is hoped to arrive at the day with the minimum incidents. They do not foresee generalized problems, but they do foresee specific ones, to form tables. And they remember that 7 of the 9 summoned – three incumbents and six substitutes – would have to fail for the constitution to be in danger. In such cases, the law provides that the voters present in the college at that time can be recruited, but it is an option that, in practice, is not used.
The boards are communicating the number of allegations accepted to the municipalities, which can thus propose alternatives to try to shield the elections. The electoral regulations, which offer little room for maneuver in an exceptional situation such as a pandemic, do not provide for a second draw.
But that does not mean, judicial sources point out, that it cannot be done if the guarantees are met. Nor does the law provide for the recruitment of volunteers, although it is an option that, ultimately, is not ruled out.
The panorama is similar in Barcelona and the rest of the provinces. In Reus, the senior judge Diego Álvarez de Juan counts “almost 800 excuses” and warns that whoever thinks he is already safe from being at a table is very wrong: “It is possible that someone will be notified the Friday before the elections ”.
He believes that the high volume of pretexts forces city councils to look for new candidates: “Each excuse is a new draw,” he says. Álvarez de Juan sees legal support for the option of choosing citizens present in the schools, but he is not so clear about the pockets of volunteers.
“The volume of allegations is being very high”, certifies Alfonso Serrano, secretary of the provincial electoral board of Lleida. “There has never been a situation like this, but we trust that, one way or another, the tables will be set up,” he says. Serrano points out that the majority of challenges are admitted.
“All the electoral boards of the zone are being less restrictive”, admits the dean of Reus. “If you say no to someone who alleges a justified excuse, in the end that person is angry and disaffection with the democratic system itself is generated.”
At the Girona local council, 668 excuses had been received until yesterday, compared to 340 for the 2019 general elections. They try to resolve them “at full speed.” In the Bisbal d’Empordà they admit that they cannot “cope” and they have the feeling that there will be some other table that cannot be established.
In Figueres, “the feeling is that nobody wants to go to a table,” explains a collaborator, who nevertheless thinks that there is room for maneuver. “The issue of the tables is controlled.”
If in large cities you choose to call the next on the draw list to ensure that there are nine people at each of the tables, the situation is different in small towns and more when it comes to towns of 200 inhabitants or less. “One of the advantages we have is that we all know each other and seek solutions, but this year is more complicated,” says Mario Urrea, president of the Association of Micro-towns of Catalonia.
Urrea even jokes that in small towns people know who has the covid and who does not. The problem arises when they do not have enough capacity to ensure that on 14-F the three holders of a table plus the six substitutes are in the first hour. “We have raised it because no one has told us, in that case, what plan B is, if all or almost all fail. We complain about that ”, he adds.
Urrea hoped to have an answer after meeting, on Thursday afternoon, with the Government delegate in Lleida and with Ismael Peña-López, technical manager of the organization of the elections and general director of Citizen Participation.
In small towns in Lleida, some municipalities try to coordinate to find solutions together. In other electoral calls, it has not been uncommon for a municipal worker to cover the seat of a member of the polling station who did not appear on the day of the vote. This possibility could be in the elections on February 14.
In Berga, for example, the electoral board has asked the local council to facilitate substitution between schools in different municipalities to fill the places that are needed. So if they know that several vacancies can occur at a given table, they can be filled with substitutes for those who have no problems to train because, in principle, there are all.
In any case, everything depends on the communication between the electoral boards of the zone and the city councils, which is the responsibility of providing members to the colleges after a draw or with other criteria. An exchange of information that is proving variable and some city councils still do not have knowledge of how many excuses are being admitted by the boards.