Democracy Is Safe and PP Bocadillos Are Superior

The pink envelopes won’t fit in the ballot box anymore. There’s still plenty of room in the box for the white envelopes, but due to the sheer size of the pink ballot and the difficulty of fitting all this dead tree in a small envelope, the box is already more than full. The chairman of the table manages to force it in with a ruler, but it’s clear that a new box is needed. And where to put the full one? Five people simultaneously start reading the manual.

It’s election day and last month three citizens living in the centre of Madrid were randomly chosen to become the chairman and assistants of one of 10 ballot boxes in the Insituto San Isidro in Calle Toledo. They receive between 80 and 100 euros for their effort and can ask for a few hours off from their jobs the next day to make up for the lost Sunday.

They have a manual in front of them explaining how to receive the 578 neighbors that are entitled to vote at their desk. Any decision the three officials make must be made based on a majority between them. The biggest parties, PP and PSOE, are represented by an ‘inventor’: a person who sits at the same table, keeps a record of who’s voted, and anything that might infringe on The Rules. Later on, he or she will also help count the ballots. That’s 5 people per table and right now they’re all trying to figure out what to do with the full box.

It’s decided that the opening has to be sealed, just as the manual says, and that the box can be put under the table. One assistant goes looking for an empty box and the PSOE inventor puts standard adhesive tape on the opening. Two minutes later the voting can be resumed.

An older woman walks up. She recognizes one of the assistants and asks if his mother is okay. Her name is read aloud from her ID-card and the other assistant and the PSOE inventor look for her name on the list. She is number 500 and something on the list, a number which is repeated twice so that all 5 have the chance to jot it down; she will be registered as the 267th voter of that day. That last number is written after her name on the list, so she cannot accidentally vote twice. Fool proof.

The chairman puts the white envelope – for the deputies – in the box for her and declares ‘ Vota!’. The pink envelope for the senate receives the same treatment. A ‘ Vota!’ follows as well. The PSOE inventor congratulates the woman for having cast her vote. In a country where elections are not held, but ‘celebrated’, congratulating someone on having voted seems appropriate. The PP inventor doesn’t look up from his newspaper. The assistant promises to send her regards to his mother and then the table is ready for vote number 268.

A few minutes later, this table starts chatting with the table in front of them – same district but they do the first half of the alphabet. And what have they done exactly with their full pink ballot box? Oh, with official tape? And where did they get that? Right, in the same envelope as the manual. The adhesive tape on the full box is swiftly replaced and the five agree that the incident is not serious enough to be officially reported.

This may seem trifling, but no incident, in or leading up to the elections, is considered irrelevant in the world of Spanish voting. Already noted as an infraction was the fact that several weeks ago the local postman had not bothered ringing the doorbell and having the gentleman sign when he received his official notification of “Charimanship” – rules are rules . A small discussion begins between the chairman and his assistants about where to put the official results later that day. The PP inventor is now completely absorbed in his newspaper, but the PSOE inventor remembers how it was done last time and digs up the form. He makes the assistants promise to take good care and not accidentally write down the PP results one line too low which belongs to the former Franco party. They promise.

Then it’s lunchtime and plastic bags arrive. The PSOE inventor jumps up and is the first to take his bocadillo, apple and soda. PSOE and PP supply their volunteers, while the chairman and his assistants can have a short break and leave their posts one by one to find themselves something to eat. These bags are from the socialists. The bocadillos de jamon are gone in minutes, but the ones with cheese last longer: not that good. The PSOE inventor mumbles that the PP bocadillos are usually a lot better than his – they have chorizo pate – and that is the only good thing about their entire party. The PP inventor manages to look up and launches an uncomfortable grin. He then returns to his paper. There are still 5 hours of voting left.

First published on www.MAPmagazine.com, March 2008

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