Italians Abroad: A Voter’s Saga


It’s a beautiful sunny day here in London. One of those days that makes you feel hopeful about the future ahead. Yet my experience of voting for the Italian elections makes me all but hopeful for the future (and present) of my home country.

Preparation to vote for the current elections started back in August 2012.

I only discovered that I was supposed to enrol on the Registry of Italians abroad (AIRE) a few months ago, almost by accident. Since then, I have tried to understand what enrolment on the Registry implied for me and how I was supposed to it. I could not do it from here as I had to go to my hometown in Italy. I also came to realise that enrolment was not just an option to consider, but a legal obligation for any Italian citizen who has left the country for longer than 12 months (Law of 27 October 1988, n. 470). Needless to say, I was not aware of it (as many fellow Italians abroad).

Obviously, I quickly proceeded to rectify the situation, predicting an imminent election (an easy prediction to make, given the frequency of Italian elections). Of course, this implied attending to the Italian Registry Office in my home town Torino to obtain my birth certificate, in order to assemble my bundle of documents.

Anyway, fast forward…all documents were sent as required back in Autumn 2012. The website of the Italian Consulate warned me it could take up to five months for the procedure to be completed. When in December 2012 the elections were officially announced, I decided to have faith ‘in the system’ and I hoped things would sort themselves out magically. I should have known: this never happens if Italian bureaucracy is involved.

 

January 2013: still no sign of my documents confirming enrolment on the Registry of Italians abroad. I sent an email to the Italian Consulate expressing my concern given the impending elections. I received email confirmation both from the Italian Registry Office and from the Italian Consulate in London stating that my registration was confirmed. The format of the emails made it almost impossible to decipher the actual meaning but after   reading them carefully a number of times, I was (almost) sure that was the meaning of the emails! I also asked for reassurance that I’d be receiving the electoral votes on time and I was told I would.

11th February 2013: the website of the Italian Consulate stated that those who had not received their postal votes by 10th February should contact the consulate. Of course, mine was nowhere to be seen. I tried calling the ‘special line’ for the 2013 Elections within the opening hours (Mon-Fri 10 am-4 pm, i.e. when most people are busy at work)…always engaged. We emailed the ‘special email address’ dedicated to the 2013 Elections.

12th February 2013: unexpectedly, we receive a reply to our email. The rude reply stated that obviously we could not vote without the postal votes. Rather, since we did not appear on the Electoral Registry, they were still waiting for Clearance to send the papers to our London address. Clearance from whom? Why, if a month earlier we had been told everything was fine? Also, we were invited not to attend the Consulate (which would have obviously been a waste of time and would have required me to take time off from work).

14th February 2013: an email confirms Clearance has been obtained and the postal vote will be sent to us. Should we not receive them within 48 hours, we should go to the Consulate (guess what happened next…).

17th February 2013: still no sign of our postal votes…time to go to the Italian Consulate in Eaton Place. That is what a sunny Sunday is for, after all.

Upon arrival, we find the door suspiciously locked. We knock, and a man opens the door just enough to stick his head through and asks ‘Who are you?’

 ‘Italians’.

‘What do you want?’

 ‘We want to vote.’

‘Who’

My brother and I look at each other wondering if the question is ‘who are you voting for’.

No, there’s a misunderstanding. The question meant ‘who of you is here to vote?’

Answer: ‘both of us, that’s why we are here.’

‘Ok, come in.’ And the door magically opened. We walk in, there are a few people sitting quietly in the corner and a Carabiniere asks again ‘what do you want’. Same answer.

Next question ‘Are you enrolled on the Registry of Italians abroad?’. Answer: ‘Yes.’

Question: ‘Are you sure.’ Answer: ‘Yes.’

‘Ok, then. Fill in this form and give me your IDs.’

We do as asked, almost feeling guilty for having disturbed him on a quiet Sunday morning.

We hand over the forms, he takes them without saying a single word. Then indicates to go through. I ask: ‘Where’ and he reluctantly explains where to go.

We reach a waiting room which looks like a hospital’s waiting room, with about a dozen of people looking bored and confused. A lady whose name tag only indicates ‘Employee Number 12’ calls people and hands over documents to them without verifying anyone’s ID.

Surprisingly, after only 20 minutes, she calls our names. We say ‘it’s us!’. Same story: no documents asked and our envelopes containing the postal votes are given to us. She says ‘make sure you vote correctly otherwise your vote won’t count.’ And I reply ‘how do I vote correcly’. Again, with a very annoyed expression, she reluctantly explains how to vote correctly. She reminds me ‘the vote is secret’ (as if I didn’t know). I thank her, she says nothing and disappears behind a door.

 

I express my vote, feeling like I am living in one of Kafka’s books. I cannot seal the envelope containing my vote as it doesn’t stick. I tell the “carabiniere” and he says ‘it’s OK as it is’. I complain and I also tell him that I am worried that, if the Consulate had sent my postal vote as promised three days ago, where is that vote going to go? He tells me that I can either send it back or destroy myself. I make the observation that, actually, that would make it very easy for anyone to vote twice – not that I’d want to do it. He replies that obviously that is not my intention, but that if I destroy it, it will not happen. I again ask ‘how can he guarantee that I or anyone else will destroy it’ and I realise that at this stage, he is making me feel like I am the one trying to cheat and not the one trying to ensure no one else does.

I then ask what to do with my vote. He points at a transparent, large plastic box which is in the waiting room between the chairs. There are people sitting all around it and it is not locked. It can easily be opened by anyone. I throw my vote in the box feeling like I’ve just thrown it in the bin and I leave the Italian Consulate not at all certain that my vote will ever reach its destination.