As Spain is still digesting the results of the recent general election, politicians are launching into another campaign this weekend. On Sunday 26 May voters in Spain are called to the polls again for the local council and the European Parliament elections. While in the general election voting is restricted to Spanish nationals, in the municipal ballot foreign residents who have registered to vote will also have a say in who runs their local town hall for the next four years.
Figures from the national institute of statistics (INE) show that 81,763 foreigners in Malaga province received notification from the electoral census office (OCE) last November informing them that they had the right to vote and that if they wished to do so they should register.
Almost half (49.03 per cent) did that, which means that 40,104 foreign residents in Malaga province will have the right to go to the polls on 26 May and vote in the council and EU elections.
Only people from EU countries can vote for the European Parliament, but in the case of Spanish council elections those from the 28 EU countries and another 12 nations with specific agreements with Spain have the right to vote for their mayors and councillors. Those non-EU countries are Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Korea, Ecuador, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru and Trinidad and Tobago.
Requirements for voting
However, among this group of 7,580 non-EU foreign residents with the right to vote, very few (468) have registered. The citizens of Paraguay seem most interested in voting, as 159 have registered, followed by Colombians (95), Bolivians (35) and Ecuadorians, but unusually not one person from New Zealand or Cape Verde has asked to exercise their right to vote, and only one person from Trinidad and Tobago has done so.
In order to be allowed to vote, citizens of these 12 countries must be legally resident in Spain, have lived here legally and uninterruptedly for at least five years before applying to be on the electoral roll, and be registered on the 'padrón', the population register, at their local town hall.
The only exception is Norway, whose citizens only have to have lived legally in Spain for three consecutive years, instead of the usual five. Those in this group also need to register their wish to vote for every election, as their registration is not renewed automatically.
Residents from EU countries do not have to re-register if they already did so when they received the first notification from the OCE. However, this does not apply if cross-referencing of data between the INE and the town hall shows no administrative 'footprint' in the past three years. This applies in quite a few cases, and as a result the Electoral Census Office in Malaga has received 39,636 new applications to register.
"Europeans tend to be more active when it comes to voting," said Antonio Requena, the OCE's delegate in the province. He says it is positive that "around 50 per cent of foreign residents with the right to vote have asked to be registered, and it seems people are more interested in participating nowadays".
These figures make Malaga the third Spanish province with the highest number of non-Spanish EU residents registered for the council elections, behind Alicante (60,144) and Madrid (54,975).
Malaga is also third in terms of voters for the European Parliament (27,229), once again behind Alicante (47,810) and Madrid (43,579).
British top the list
Of the 28 member countries of the European Union whose citizens in Spain have asked to vote in the council elections for the first time (39,636 in total in Malaga), over 46 per cent (18,522) are British.
Uncertainty over Brexit led the Spanish government to consider wiping British residents from the electoral roll - in fact the OCE issued a directive to that effect - but an agreement signed between Spain and Britain in January lifted the veto. Both countries decided that British citizens who had registered to vote would be able to do so on 26 May, whether or not the UK had left the EU by that date. The agreement also meant that Spanish citizens living in the UK were also able to vote in the recent council elections there.
Although far behind the number of registered British voters, the second most active are German citizens (3,718), followed by Italians (3,182), French (2,175), Dutch (1,944), Swedish (1,738), Romanians (1,687) and Belgians (1,361.) At the other end of the scale, the EU countries whose citizens seem less interested in voting are Cyprus (1), Croatia (9) and Slovenia (10).
In the council elections, not only are foreign residents allowed to vote, but they are also allowed to stand as candidates. A look at the lists submitted by the different political parties in towns and villages around the province shows a sprinkling of non-Spanish names, especially in places with a large foreign population.