Sunday, November 16, 2003

Well, today's a Japanese girl's favorite day, so we went out to vote. We observed two schools being used as polling places; everything was completely normal. The way it works is that people on the voting lists are chosen at random to serve as vote tabulators. It's like jury duty, but just for one day. You get paid like fifty bucks or whatever, and you have to appear, no excuses, or get hit with a heavy fine. I assume they let you off if you have the flu or something. Official political party volunteers, with a party volunteer tag, are allowed to observe and provide assistance to voters, so the various parties keep things covered. There are never the slightest insinuations of vote fraud. Doesn't happen.

Turnout in Spain is pretty good for the most part. Good turnout would be something like 65% for a regional election, like this one. 70% wouldn't be too unusual for a general election. There are four types of election, general, for Spanish prime minister, (=US federal), regional, for Catalan prime minister, (=US state), municipal, for local mayor, (US local administrations), and European Parliament (no US equivalent, of course). Average turnout drops as you go down the list. It's generally better than in the US, though, and one reason is that elections are always held on Sunday here in Spain, a day almost everyone has off from work.

In the US, by contrast, elections are always held on Tuesday, a working day for almost everyone. I'm amazed that we get even 50% turnout for our working-day elections in the US. I would seriously suggest that elections be held on Sunday in the US if we want a more participative democracy, which we may not. If any religious groups complain tell 'em they can vote by absentee ballot. You wouldn't have to amend the Constitution, since all it says on the question is that Congress shall fix the date of presidential elections and that date must be the same in the whole country (Article II, Section 1)--so I don't see why Congress shouldn't designate the first Sunday in November rather than the second Tuesday.

Anyway, whenever an election is coming around, they send out a voter card to everyone eligible to vote in the circumscription of the election. You are automatically registered, and since we do not have real primary elections here, you do not register a party affiliation.

(The way you get affiliated to a party is by soliciting admission: I don't know if they take a vote on you, but you do have to pay dues and if you do something the party doesn't like you can be expelled. You get a party membership card and everything. You get whatever voice the party allows any of its other members over internal affairs, which normally does not include a vote by the members on selection of the candidates.)

What you do is take your voter card and your photo ID down to the neighborhood elementary school. There is a pile of paper ballots for each of the parties--you don't vote for a candidate, you vote for a party, though of course each party has its leader. You pick up your party's ballot (with the names of your party's 85 nominated candidates, one for every seat up for grabs in Barcelona province, as well as the party's name and its symbol), stuff it into the envelope provided, get in line, they check your name against the computer list, and then they allow you to stick your sealed envelope into the Plexiglass ballot box. That's it. (If you want to vote in secret, there are little booths provided. You can pick up several party ballots, take them into the sealed booth, and then discard the ones you don't want to vote for and stick the one you want in the envelope and seal it.) Then, they count the votes that night and the Parliamentary seats are apportioned out, using the d'Hondt system of proportional representation. If, say, the Socialist party is adjudicated 47 seats out of the 85 in Barcelona province, then the top 47 names on the socialist ballot win a Parliamentary seat. Whichever party or coalition of parties that can form an absolute majority of seats forms a Cabinet, whose members they select. Naturally, the Number One candidate in the leading party's list of names gets to be Prime Minister, and several Cabinet posts are given to the leaders of the allied party or parties, if there are any.

You know, an elitist argument can be made that it's a good idea to keep the percentage of voters low, and one way to do that is to make it a pain to vote. That way only those willing to jump through the necessary bureaucratic hoops and register to vote and the like get to vote. The idea is that the Joe Schloops who don't have the damndest idea about politics won't bother to get registered, thereby removing 'less-qualified' voters. This argument is, of course, profoundly antidemocratic. It doesn't contradict representative democracy, though.

Anyway, I'll post again when something like some real results are out later this evening. It's 5 PM here now and supposedly they'll have preliminary results when the polls close and something like a real projection of the new distribution of seats by 11 or so.

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