Stephen Ansolabehere: Observations on the Catalan Election

October 2, 2017
Line of voters extends down a street during the Catalan referendum

by Stephen Ansolabehere

Greetings from Barcelona, the morning after the election. I visited 5 polling stations and the press relations office of the Si organizers. I walked around the city and watched what was happening and how things were reported.  

Wow.  Yesterday was amazing.  Here is what I observed. 

Catalan voters at the ballot box during the 2017 referendumThe biggest disruptions of the Catalan election were not police seizures of ballots or violence but were hacks of the computer system.  The people who ran the election (largely volunteers, not the government) were extremely competent.  DNS attacks hit in the morning and took down the internet access to the voter registration database at the polling places.  To prevent the Spanish government from closing polling places the organizers set up a system that allowed voting anywhere.  Remote access to the voter registration system through the internet was critical.  It was a cat and mouse game but the election organizers finally prevailed.  IT won the day.

I saw no violence (except on TV).  I saw no police seizures of ballots or raids of polling stations. 

Crowds gather at a polling place during the 2017 Catalan referendumBut stepping back from the voting system, what impressed me most was how peaceful the voting was.  There were huge crowds at every polling place.  Some places had at least 1,000 persons.  Most people were in line but people stayed around the polling places after voting to form a human barrier against the Spanish police. 

People celebrated when they voted, and the crowd at the polling places applauded each person as they exited.  People stayed all day.   Every polling place I walked by (at least a dozen) had massive crowds until 9 pm when voting ended.  And people stayed on and sang and talked.



Stephen Ansolabehere is a Professor of Government at Harvard and an IQSS Affiliate. He is co-PI of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), and his work focuses on elections, democracy, and the mass media.