Just three days before Spain’s snap election, some 2.6 million voters have opted to vote by post, fuelling ‘Trumpist’-style conspiracy theories about possible fraud which have been amplified by the right-wing. Misleading claims about mail ballots have been spreading on social media and casting doubts about the results even before the votes have been counted.
Holidaymakers who didn’t want to miss out had to register early to secure a postal vote, with the authorities receiving 2.6 million such requests — an unprecedented figure, equating to nearly 7% of the 37.7 million people eligible to vote in Spain.
They originally had until the end of Thursday 20 July to visit a post office to hand in their ballot papers for Sunday’s election, with hundreds of post offices remaining open until 10pm on Thursday. The deadline has now been extended, however, until 2pm on Friday 21 July [see Tweet below].
The allegations, amplified by supporters of the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox party, bear striking similarities to the baseless claims spread by then-President Donald Trump ahead of his 2020 US election defeat, suggesting that the distrust of elections that has marred US politics has taken root in Europe, too.
Since the start of the campaign, the opposition has raised doubts about the ability of Correos, Spain’s postal service, to ensure all the ballot papers were counted in time.
In recent weeks, debunked videos claiming to show election workers stuffing the ballot box have circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter; Facebook labelled the videos as false while Twitter has taken no action. Other videos spreading on Facebook and TikTok allege Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE party will steal the election to prevent a defeat. Many bear the hashtag #pucherazo, a Spanish term for electoral fraud.
As in the US, the use of mail ballots is a particular focus of election conspiracy theories, with some far-right voters suggesting the post office would be used to throw the election to Sánchez. It’s a narrative that Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the PP leader, has helped to amplify. At a rally last week, he urged Spain’s postal employees to remain independent.
‘I ask the postmen in Spain to work to the maximum, morning, afternoon and night,’ Feijóo said during a campaign rally in Murcia. ‘Regardless of your bosses, I urge you to distribute all the mail-in ballots on time.’
He later said he was not trying to suggest the postal service would try to steal the election but was instead referring to the challenges of handling so many mail ballots. Polls suggest his party will win but without an absolute majority.
Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox which could end up as kingmaker, said on Tuesday that he was ‘extremely worried’ that Correos ‘did not have the necessary means’ to fulfil the task, denouncing the date of the vote as being chosen ‘in very bad faith during Spain’s holiday period’.
In mid-July, socialist Prime Minister Sánchez hit out at the right-wing insinuations, accusing the opposition of following a strategy ‘that aimed to create distrust so people won’t vote or will be suspicious of the electoral process’.
Correos has also issued a statement rejecting ‘all insinuations or reports casting doubt on the work of its professional staff’ which ‘weaken our democracy’.
Spain’s Economy Minister Nadia Calviño said ‘that the “Trumpist” questioning which tries to erode the strength of Spain’s democracy is dangerous’.
Admitiremos el depósito del #VotoPorCorreo en nuestras oficinas hasta mañana viernes 21/07, como máximo hasta las 14:00h, para facilitar la gestión de la documentación electoral.— Correos (@Correos) July 20, 2023
Nuestras instituciones y funcionarios son un #OrgulloDePaís🇪🇸— Nadia Calviño (@NadiaCalvino) July 20, 2023
Los ciudadanos saben que pueden confiar en sanidad y educación pública, @policia @guardiacivil @rtve @Correos @es_INE…
Es peligroso el cuestionamiento "trumpista", que trata de erosionar la fuerza de la #democracia. pic.twitter.com/IEg5iiioWZ