30 January was the deadline for EU citizens to register in the electoral roll for the local and European elections of 26 May 2019. The deadline for non-EU residents with reciprocity agreements (i.e. where both Spain and their countries of origin allow their citizens to vote in certain elections in both countries) was 15 days earlier.
Unless they are registered in a specific electoral roll, the following pesrons will be included among those residents of Barcelona who are unable to vote: foreigners from countries without a reciprocity agreement, which are most of the countries in the world.
When will there be universal suffrage?
A number of organisations from all over Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain are carrying out actions to try to achieve real universal suffrage. One of these initiatives is the campaign promoted by SOS Racisme Vot x Tothom, which claims foreigners’ right to vote as an essential value for becoming a real democracy and a fair and egalitarian society.
In 2016 the Municipal Immigration Council of Barcelona, a citizen participation body composed of over 40 immigrant group associations and organisations, presented a petition for the recognition of full citizenship for voting purposes. The petition argues that, “the lack of real universal suffrage, one that includes all members of the socio-political community, is a serious democratic deficit. Our legal system does not guarantee foreign residents’ rights to political participation.”
The petition called on the Spanish Parliament and Government to amend Article 13.2 of the Spanish Constitution “to allow all foreigners to vote and stand in all elections and to remove the requirement for reciprocity in the recognition of foreign residents’ suffrage rights.”
The lack of real universal suffrage, one that includes all members of the socio-political community, is a serious democratic deficit.
It is Ana Lucía Olivos, a political expert of Peruvian origin who has lived in Barcelona for 25 years, who tells us about this council and its petition. She is currently a member of the European Migrant Advisory Board of the Urban Agenda for the EU, and she works on migration issues for Barcelona City Council under a partnership agreement with the Open Society Foundations. A self-defined “stereotypical Peruvian,” she is proactive, professional, direct and close.
Ana Lucía is part of the project La meva ciutat, el meu vot [My City, my vote], a campaign by Barcelona City Council to inform both residents from the EU and non-EU residents from countries with a reciprocity agreement about registering in the electoral roll. According to the Town Council’s data, the potential number of foreign people currently entitled by law to vote in the next local elections is approximately 105,000. In the last local elections (2015), only 20,300 of these people registered in the roll, a necessary step for exercising the right to vote.
“What happens when a person from Ecuador who has been here for five years but has not started the naturalisation process wants to vote in the local elections? He or she must register in the electoral roll, a procedure that is automatic for any naturalised person. He or she must be registered in the municipal register. From this year, people in this position must make an appointment with the police to apply for a residence certificate,” explains Ana Lucía. The certificate must be applied for at the Passeig de Sant Joan office, where queues form every morning, as only the first 100 people to get there will be served each day.
Approximately 105,000 foreign people living in Barcelona are legally entitled to vote. In order to exercise this right, they must go through a number of procedures to register in the electoral roll.
For four months, the campaign “My city, my vote” has provided information about registering in the electoral roll on social media as well as by means of visits in person to key places and agents, such as consulates, associations, schools and shops in the communities concerned.
“The low participation in the previous election was found to be due to people’s lack of awareness of the need to register in the electoral roll. For “normative” people, the registration is automatic. The obligation to register in the electoral roll is institutional racism towards a group of people that works and pays their taxes like the rest, and hence the need for campaigns such as “My city, my vote”, Olivos sentence.
And these communities are not even the most disregarded ones: there are some who, for now, will never be able to vote, at least until they start the process to acquire Spanish nationality. “Venezuelan, Honduran, Brazilian, Uruguayan, Senegalese and Moroccan people, among others, have no reciprocity agreement. And, in the whole of Asia, only Korea has one,” states the political expert.
According to City Council data, in January 2018 there were 91,662 EU people in the city, 30.4% of the total number of foreigners. Of this total number, 83,842 were over 18 years old, and 15,095 of them were registered in the electoral roll. This is only 18% of the total. There are 209,964 non-EU people living in the city; i.e. the remaining 69.6% of foreigners. Of these, 41,500 were non-EU adults with a reciprocity agreement, of which only 7,452 registered to vote (21%).
People with intellectual disabilities regain the right to vote
On 17 October 2018 Parliament recognised the right to vote of 100,000 people with intellectual disabilities. We spoke about this to Xavier Orno, a member of the Rights Observatory and technician of DINCAT, a federation that improves and advocates for these people’s quality of life, claims quality services and denounces situations of infringement or exclusion.
“Even nowadays, there are still some who think that people with disabilities are not full citizens. Or that we lack capacity to have certain rights. Until last year, people with intellectual disabilities with modified legal capacity were unable to vote. Such modification was implemented by means of an interview involving a number of questions. In relation to the capacity to vote, these included questions such as, “who is the president of the Parliament?”, “what is such-and-such a tax for?” or “how many senators does the Senate have?” Questions that had nothing to do with whether people could have an opinion about who they might vote for,” explains Orno.
“Under the new law (LOREG) [Organic Law on the Electoral System],” he continues, “all people with intellectual disabilities have now regained the right to vote. It’s something they have recovered, not gained. This has been made possible thanks to families who, through associations, federations and the state platform, have fought to recover this right to vote.”
Under the new law, all people with intellectual disabilities have regained the right to vote. It’s something they have recovered, not something they have gained.
But, in addition to the regained vote, Xavier asserts that there is still a long way to go before people with intellectual disabilities (crossing out the prefix “dis”, as they like to do) can feel that they have the same rights: “Are election manifestos accessible? Will we be able to understand what they are telling us? In order to be able to vote, I must be informed and have an idea of who I can vote for.”
“No campaigns aimed at people with disabilities have ever been carried out,” he adds. “This group has always been excluded from this whole world. If you, a political party, say nothing about people with disabilities, if you fail to take me into account in your policies and think that I shouldn’t even vote, what interest can I possibly have? The focus should not be on whether or not people want to vote but on whether political parties are able to express themselves and take an interest in citizens’ interests.”
“If we want to be inclusive, we must be committed to clear language. And I don’t mean simple or childish. I mean a language that is adapted for everyone to understand it,” the DINCAT technician concludes.
Other groups that are subject to discrimination
We spoke to Albert Fages, coordinator of the Office for Non-Discrimination of Barcelona, an office with 20 years’ experience that helps citizens in a situation of discrimination or whose rights have been infringed. In addition to providing legal advice and psychosocial care, this service works on dispute resolution through mediation. The most common rights infringements in Barcelona in recent years relate to racism, LGTBI-phobia and gender. With regard to the right to vote, people often ask them “what procedures must be carried out in order to obtain this right,” explains the coordinator.
Government bodies don’t always comply with the obligation to inform people in prison about their right to vote.
The office collaborated, for example, in the municipal campaign to inform inmates of their right to vote. The campaign followed a number of complaints and petitions from inmates who were unable to get together the necessary documents to vote or who had requested them but had not received them.
We asked Albert what other groups in the city may have problems exercising their right to vote. Homeless people? “The number of people living on the street in Barcelona has increased significantly, including people with atypical profiles,” says Fages on this matter. “We are working to provide cover and support, to empower people and fight against them giving up and against rights infringements, depressive personal situations and aporophobia.”
“We are working on these matters together with organisations in the Network for the Care of the Homeless, and it is worth keeping in mind in relation to this work that this is a very vulnerable group. For this reason, the information on the right to vote is certainly a secondary matter compared to these people’s primary needs”, explains Albert.
The coordinator of the Office for Non-Discrimination emphasises the role of the associative network in defending and guaranteeing rights. Specifically in relation to the right to vote, he told us about Exmemas, “an association of young people who arrived as unaccompanied migrant minors. There is a group of teachers that support them, and providing information about their right to vote is one of the topics they work on.”
Taking part in political life: an unresolved matter.
“In neighbourhood councils or civic centres, I definitely see and note the participation of foreigners living in Barcelona,” explains Ana Lucía. “But this matter still remains unresolved in the political arena. If you can’t choose the mayor or the president, they can’t tell you that, ‘you have the same rights and duties as a person born in Catalonia,’ because it’s not true.”
“Furthermore,” she continues, “there is a percentage of people in the city that are not politically represented. We need to make the migrant community visible in every sphere. We are starting to see some intercultural politics with Chakir el Homrani, the Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Families of the Generalitat de Catalunya, or Najat Driouech, who is a member of the Parliament of Catalonia, but headlines focus on their origin rather than on their political careers. And that’s not helpful: people don’t get involved because they don’t feel represented in all political spheres,” asserts Ana Lucía.
Xavier Orno highlights other parts of the city where his community should be getting more involved: “In schools; we fight for inclusive schooling! We also want more leisure experiences: to be able to go to a restaurant, the cinema… or a hotel, and not to be told, based on prejudice, that the establishment is full. Or do you remember the news report about the night club? We want the same rights as any other person. We are not monsters”.