Catalonia vote: Freeing the ballot box

By Patrick Jackson
BBC News, Barcelona

  • Published
Oriol Junqueras, head of the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia, center, holds a drawing a of ballot box during a rally ahead of voting on an informal poll, scheduled for next Sunday, in Girona, Spain, on Saturday Nov.8, 2014Image source, Emilio Morenatti
Image caption,
Campaigners from the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia hold drawings of ballot boxes

The flimsier Sunday's non-binding vote in Catalonia, the better for enemies of independence from Spain - and what could be flimsier than the elusive cardboard ballot boxes being used for the poll?

Forbidden to use the normal electoral process, the Catalan government is having to rely on volunteers.

It has added to the sense of vagueness by being coy about when exactly the boxes will be delivered.

Image source, Emilio Morenatti
Image caption,
Organisers say everything is ready for polling stations to open for voting on Sunday

A source close to the Catalan government effectively told me it was not an issue as the boxes had already gone out to the polling stations. When I asked through official channels to inspect them, my calls were not returned.

At the same time, news emerged of a warning from Madrid that any use of Catalan government resources to hold the vote might be illegal.

You could see why the Catalan government might be coy about its involvement, which includes a commitment to supply election materials.

'No boxes yet'

Then on Friday night, at the final big rally in Barcelona, campaign press officer Adria Alsina informed me that, to his knowledge, no boxes had been delivered in the Barcelona area.

The boxes going to his own station would only be delivered just before voting started on Sunday, he said.

Image source, Emilio Morenatti
Image caption,
Posters of the ballot boxes are being used in the campaigns, while many of the real ones remain hidden
Image source, BBC/Patrick Jackson
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And here are some of the elusive boxes, at a polling station in Barcelona

All the boxes were being held by the Catalan government at a secret depot in the city, he told me.

Secrecy would be maintained until the last minute to avoid unionist provocations, if not intervention by the Spanish government itself.

Only, in the time I talked to Mr Alsina things had already changed. A couple of hours later, I was chatting to activists who confirmed for me their boxes had arrived at their polling station in a secondary school that afternoon, and were being kept under wraps for the big day.

A photo was even circulating on Twitter proudly showing off the precious cardboard at one station in the town of Solsona.

"Freeing" the ballot box of democracy has been a theme of the independence campaign.

Civic duty

When the ballot boxes are finally unfolded on Sunday, how do we know that there will be no trickery after the chaos of recent days?

Just seven or eight MEPs are due to monitor the polling stations in this region of 7.5 million people, along with observers from Argentina and other countries.

Image source, Emilio Morenatti
Image caption,
The Constitutional Court suspended plans for an official referendum following a legal challenge by the Spanish government

At the end of the day, it is all about trusting the volunteers who will be doing the count - volunteers from the very groups that want independence.

Like Andreu Cabre, who will be presiding over a box at a Barcelona polling station.

Can independence supporters be trusted not to serve up a box of tricks?

"Definitely," he said. "Whenever there is an election, you are always relying on people's civic duty. I take this very seriously, as a first step towards a way of doing things as an independent country."

Then he frowned and added: "Look, we are being forced into this mock-up election because Spain did not allow us a regular one. This is the best we can do under the circumstances."

Update Saturday evening: The ballot boxes have now been delivered to most of the schools in Barcelona, campaign press officer told me. He adds that there are reports that the state prosecutor has just started an investigation regarding the use of public schools as polling stations.

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