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Late requests for absentee ballots swamp Spanish post offices

Source: El Pais - Thu 10th Dec 2015
Late requests for absentee ballots swamp Spanish post offices

Post offices in Madrid were near collapse on Wednesday as people had to wait in line on the next-to-last day to request a postal vote for the general elections on December 20.

In a post office branch in Hortaleza, a neighborhood in the northeast area of Madrid, there was a one-hour wait as 30 people or so waited their turn to hand in an application form for an absentee ballot.

These documents can only be filed in person, after an ID check by the postal clerk. Applicants later receive a certified letter at home with the postal vote papers. These have to be filled out and personally taken back to the post office by December 16 in order for the vote to be counted.

“How’s it all going?” asked one woman as she stood in line at the Hortaleza office. A resigned shake of the head was all the reply she received. “What time do you close?” asked another woman before walking out in despair.

But most people stood their ground, sighing with relief when a number came up and nobody walked up to the counter with it. Never mind the fact that it could mean one vote less. With every passing minute, democracy seemed to lose part of its charm – especially to the people who were there for unrelated matters such as sending a package.

Yet the massive attendance was not wholly unexpected. At the 2011 general election, 687,631 postal vote applications were approved, representing two percent of all voters. Most of the applications for an absentee ballot were filed in the Spanish exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, in North Africa, while Barcelona received the least.

But complaints have been rife this week on the social networks, where users were lamenting the fact that the postal service had not beefed up its staff to deal with the crush, noting that there are many jobless people in Spain who would be glad for the work. Others theorized about the government’s secret hope that people would not exercise their right to vote.

Nobody mentioned the fact that voters had already had six weeks to apply for the postal vote.

Still, some post offices were more accommodating than others. The one located inside the Callao branch of department store El Corte Inglés remained open until 10pm, compared with 8.30pm or 9.30pm at most others.

On Wednesday night, there was a line of 40 people stretching from the post office right out to the escalator.

“My working hours mean I can’t come at any other time,” said Elisa Marquina, 27, who had been standing in line for an hour.

“You shouldn’t leave things for the last day,” admonished a postal worker. Yet employees decided to remain at their posts for an additional 20 minutes after closing time to spare the latecomers from having to come back on Thursday.

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