Why can’t I vote in Spain’s general election?

Dec 9, 2015 by

It’s December 2015 and I’m entering my fifth winter in Barcelona. At this point, a week and a half before the Spanish general election, I’m much more preoccupied with the policies of Spain’s political superheroes, Plasmaman and Ponytails, than I am with those of their British counterparts, Cameron and Corbyn.

I live and work full-time in Spain, I pay all my taxes here, and I’m dutifully empadronada (registered as a citizen on the local census).

But on the 20th of December, when Spain goes to the ballet boxes in a hotly contested general election, I will have no say in choosing the party or policies that will control the next four years of my life here.

You could argue – and some Spaniards do – that this is entirely fair. “You’re resident”, they point out, “but not a national”. Very true. Nationality is not something I think anyone should relinquish lightly. (Plus, since I’m not married to a Spaniard, Spain wouldn’t grant me nationality anyway.)

Yet the fact remains that the decisions taken in the Moncloa during the next Spanish parliament are the ones that will most directly impact my day-to-day life as a full-time resident: from how much tax I pay to the state of the hospitals I visit to whether I live in a country actively at war.

Expat vote in Spain? Congreso de Diputados by Juan Hernandez Gonzalez

Expat vote between UK and Spain – a hope in hell?

Why can’t we vote where we live?

Both Scotland and the UK tacitly back me up on this.

In last year’s landmark referendum on Scottish independence, the Scottish government decided that all British, Commonwealth and EU citizens resident in Scotland had the right to vote in this historic ballot on the country’s political destiny. Since I live in Spain, I wasn’t allowed to vote.

The UK, meanwhile, continues to deny the vote to long-term British expats abroad, and has even recently blocked moves to allow UK nationals who’ve been abroad beyond the 15-year benchmark a vote in the upcoming referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union. (Meaning that the people who arguably have the most to lose if the UK does opt out of Europe are shut out of the decision-making process.)

Presumably, the thinking behind both of these approaches is that only people actually living in the country concerned should have the right to vote in important political decisions. Which would be sensible – except as a Scot/Brit living in Catalonia/Spain, I’m at the mercy of some seriously ham-fisted international political hangovers. These effectively lock me out of any say in epoch-making national referendums, the general elections of my host country or (under current British laws) the general elections of my native country either. Vaya democracia.

This isn’t a uniquely British phenomenon, as evinced in the recent Spanish media coverage of the ‘voto rogado’ (‘requested’ or expat vote), which will see a paltry 6% of Spaniards abroad given the opportunity to vote in Spain’s December general election.

An inveterate vestige of politics the world over it may be, but in the age of galluping globalization, it falls short of my expectations of democracy as an EU citizen. I would be more than happy to forego the right to vote in UK elections in exchange for the right to vote in Spain, for as long as I live and contribute to society here. Plasmaman and Ponytails, please take note.

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  1. Hear hear, I totally agree. I wish I could have voted too yesterday. It would make sense too: people feel more with the country they’ve (willingly) moved to than with the country they left behind.
    I was under the impression that immigrants are allowed to vote at some point, and I even thought it would be 5 years after getting your empadronada… but you proved me wrong. I guess now I just gonna have to marry my (Spanish) partner. 😉

    • Julie Sheridan

      Yeah, a lot of people seem to think that immigrants in Europe can vote in their host country, but it varies from country to country. I understand Spain and Norway have a mutual arrangement going on, where their citizens get to vote in each other’s countries, but nothing for Spain and the UK. Marriage might be a bit desperate, though:)


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