Reports of a possible early general election in Italy have caused me to remember some of the fun and complications involved in voting here.
As an EU citizen who is permanently resident in Italy, I have the right to vote in local council elections – the logic being that I pay local taxes – and in EU ones. I also, of course, pay national taxes such as income tax but only Italian citizens can vote in national elections. And, this being Italy, your voting papers do not automatically plop through your letter box just because you are a resident. It is all much more complicated than that!
During one blazingly hot May I experienced my first round of local elections in Modica and, in a display of quite shameful British apathy, I was not really bothered about exercising my right to vote. However, Elisabetta, a very politically active friend of mine had declared her candidacy and she was determined to gain every possible vote, including mine.
I should not, therefore, have been surprised when Elisabetta turned up at the unearthly hour of 08.30 one Monday to whisk me down to the election offices in Modica Bassa. After producing all my documents, two photos and not forgetting to discuss the health of everyone on the premises and to thank Il Signore for it, I was presented with a gloriously stamped voting paper, of which I have to say I was very proud.
With an 86% average election turnout, Italians are certainly not laid-back about politics and on election Sunday I could hear many of my neighbours rising early to go and vote. As Simi and I went for our morning walk we saw many of them sitting on café terraces discussing the possible results. At 3pm I was just settling down for a siesta when the doorbell buzzed and Elisabetta’s voice bellowed over the intercom,
“Come on! You’ve got to come and vote!”
Thus I found myself being driven to the polling station at breakneck speed and, having been propelled in, did I expect the process to be simple? Well, no, not really, so I was not totally surprised when the four members of staff manning the room looked perplexed and concluded that they could not allow me to vote because the paper did not have the "electoral code" imprinted upon it.
“Oh, never mind”, said I pathetically but Elisabetta was not so easily deterred and off we drove, again at breakneck speed, to the electoral office, where, recognising us, the staff declared that of course the paper was valid and wanted to know what was the matter with people in the polling station. They then printed yet another document, highlighting upon it all references to the EU law which states that an EU resident in Italy has the right to vote. Then they added their office phone number and also highlighted this.
Another death-defying car ride and we were back at the polling station. By this time I felt sorry for the staff, who still did not know what to do. After all, they had probably never seen such an authorisation before. After ten minutes of discussion, they decided to call the Presidente[presiding officer] who arrived a few moments later carrying several impressive-looking tomes on electoral law. He sat himself down at a corner table, perused the new document and all the relevant sections in his scholarly books and, realising that this was likely to take some time, I sat down. "Can't you call the office?" pleaded Elisabetta, who no doubt had other vote-dodging friends to cajole. "This is my responsibility and no one else’s", replied the gentleman. “Pazienza, signora.”
After twenty endless minutes, he suddenly grinned at me and called over to his staff, "Fate votare la signora" ["Let the lady vote"]. And that is how I finally exercised my democratic right to vote in my new country.
I cannot close this article without telling you about the fun the Modicani have with election posters: there are very strict rules about where and how you can display these but, of course, in Italy rules exist only to be broken. At election time hundreds of election posters appear every morning on a wall at the end of my street and I am always surprised that no one runs a book on how long they will stay there: sooner or later, on the same day, they are covered over by austere official posters sternly declaring that, under law 212 of 04-04-1956, election posters can only be displayed in authorised locations After an hour or two, the election posters reappear again, the next day they are covered over again and so it goes on. Election time is anything but boring in Italy!