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The leftist coalition’s labour reforms were finally approved last Thursday by just one vote - and that was an “accidental” vote from a member of the opposition Popular Party (PP)

Friday, 11 February 2022, 18:12

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Digitalisation is a priority for the Spanish government, but it might not want to improve electronic voting systems too much. The leftist coalition’s labour reforms were finally approved last Thursday by just one vote - and that was an “accidental” vote from a member of the opposition Popular Party (PP), for which the Conservatives originally blamed parliament’s IT system. Have the reforms been legitimately passed or not?

Anyone with experience of internet-based procedures in Spain might sympathise with Alberto Casero, the 43 year-old PP deputy for Cáceres province who made the anomalous vote.

Perhaps the page timed out, perhaps the print above the voting boxes was too small or confusingly worded, perhaps he didn’t make a copy of the voting form, as specified in a hidden corner of the website, itself requiring a completed, scanned, validated form to gain access.

Any number of things could have malfunctioned, whether technological, human or both - although technicians at the Congress of Deputies insist that there was nothing wrong with the system before voting began. Another problem with the “Computer Error” theory is that Casero apparently entered the “wrong” vote not once but five times.

The dispute between the presidency of Congress and the Conservatives centres on the fact that Casero wasn’t allowed to change his vote afterwards.

The PP cites legislation from 2012, according to which a deputy’s vote has to be confirmed in a telephone call from the president of Congress after the online vote and before the voting session in parliament. Casero received no such call from PSOE member and president of parliament Meritxell Batet, whom the PP accuses of vote-rigging.

For its part, the parliamentary presidency says that, because of the outbreak of Covid, confirmation by telephone was abolished in March 2020; instead, deputies now confirm votes with their intranet usernames and passwords.

Why telephone-based procedures have been suspended because of the pandemic hasn’t been explained.

It is also unclear whether this amendment means that there is now no correctional procedure to fall back on if internet systems crash or if someone makes a genuine, human error. Neither computers nor politicians are that infallible.

But was it a mistake? The PP now claims that Casero’s vote may have been deliberately manipulated from a “No” into a “Yes” by a third party. Regardless of whether it was the result of computer error, human mistake or fraudulent interference, the Conservatives have vowed to go to the Constitutional Court to resolve the matter.

There is, of course, a fourth possibility: that Casero consciously disobeyed the PP whip - that is, rebelled against the party that introduced the very measures being tweaked by the government - and endorsed the policies of a Communist minister. That really would be a substantial win for the Socialist-led coalition, not one decided at the eleventh hour by supposed error or fraud.

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