Santiago García, a veteran judge who left his position in the Huelva Court to go to the trenches of the Barcelona examining courts three years ago, knows that complicated, uncertain, tense days are coming. He is the president of the Barcelona Zone Electoral Board – which includes the capital, but also Badalona, Santa Coloma and Sant Adrià – and his task is to guarantee that the February 14 elections are held with guarantees. The pandemic does not make it easy. García is confident that it will be possible to vote, but admits that we will have to hold our breath until the end: “At 9:00 we will know if the elections are viable.”
“The great risk is that some polling stations are not set up,” he admits. He fears that citizens designated by lottery to serve as chairmen and members – three per table, plus six substitutes – will not show up for the appointment. The critical moment is from 8:00 to 9:00. García and the other four members of the board will be at that time in the City of Justice, waiting for calls regarding possible incidents in the opening of schools. “There is a high percentage of viability. Everyone is making an effort to get the vote done ”.
Although participation in a polling station is mandatory and being absent is punishable by a fine and even imprisonment (from three months to a year), the fear of the coronavirus has its weight. “Going to vote is a specific action. But spending many hours at the table, receiving people, can be a risk ”, admits García. The judge recalls that, in elections, the citizen at the table becomes a kind of “public servant.” So if you get infected, or suffer another mishap, you can hold the administration accountable and compensate you.
The insubordination that groups of citizens have openly raised is another risk factor. Garcia says they are receiving hundreds of emails with “false requests” to be absent from the tables, which intend to “collapse the mailbox.” “I would not be surprised if on the 14th,” he predicts with some fear, “they could sabotage our telephone line.”
The avalanche of requests to be exempted from participating worries him: 3,500, the vast majority (about 3,000) for medical reasons. “People claim that they suffer from previous pathologies or family responsibilities, such as caring for children or vulnerable people,” he explains. In the decision it weighs that there is a medical certificate and, above all, that the risk for the citizen “is serious or acceptable.” They have barely solved 100 and of these half have admitted them. García hopes to give an acceleration this Thursday, in a new meeting of the board in which they will already have the help (at first denied by the administration) of two forensic doctors for evaluations.
And what happens if there are not enough holders or reserves? The electoral law provides that the local board can designate the earliest citizens: those who are in the electoral college. Bad idea, says García. “The solution that the first to vote stays is very brutal. In addition, on 14-F the first time slot is reserved for vulnerable people … ”Before taking that step, the president believes that it will be necessary to look for“ bags of volunteers ”to be part of the tables. It is not something that the Organic Law of the General Electoral Regime (LOREG) —an “anachronistic” law, which does not allow to “individualize” the excuses for skipping the table, according to García— foresees and, in addition, volunteers must be facilitated by the municipalities . The Barcelona City Council has not foreseen any contingent of volunteers for now because “nobody has asked for it”, it reports Clara Blanchar. In one of the meetings he has come to discuss with his colleagues the possibility of incorporating, if necessary, auditors and attorneys-in-fact. “I don’t see it, because they are partisan … But I don’t know, under exceptional circumstances, exceptional solutions.”
With the intention of “speeding up” the vote count and minimizing health risks, the Barcelona board has agreed that the chairmen of the polling stations do not have to travel to the City of Justice to deliver the envelopes with the ballots. Ten magistrates will travel to the schools to collect the votes. A long round: 342 polling stations in Barcelona, plus those in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Badalona and Sant Adrià del Besòs.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.