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January 30 election, will Portugal make the ghosts vote?

If you live in Portugal and are at least minimally interested in the economic and political life of the country, you know that on Sunday, January 30, legislative elections will be held following the dissolution of the Portuguese government initiated by the President of the Portuguese Republic on November 5, 2021.

According to the Diário de Notícias newspaper, "negligence" and the emigrants' attachment to their land are to blame. 

January 30 election, will Portugal make the ghosts vote? 

Still according to Diário de NotíciasFor years, the "dead" were to blame. Now, they say, it seems to be the emigrants' fault. The phenomenon of ghost voters, of whom there are over a million this year, distorts abstention figures and can even "distort" the number of MPs per constituency.

They "falsify turnout", generate "erroneous conclusions" and can "alter the number of MPs" per constituency. This is an old problem that has been around for a long time, with "particularly high values in the mid-1990s", writes DN in its January 27, 2022 article.

At that time, "the number of people on the electoral roll exceeded the voting age population by around 20 %". Since then, the percentage has fallen, but it's still almost always around 10%. It's as if we could remove "this inconsistency" - "overestimation" - from the abstention figures, and look at a situation closer to reality: the 51.4% of 2019, for example, would only be 41.4%, the 44.1% of 2015 would be 34.1%, and the 41.9% of 2011 would represent an abstention of 31.9%.

election, Portugal
Source: Diário de Notícias

If we go back to the days when electoral rolls rarely eliminated the dead, it's possible, given the considerable numbers detected in recent decades, to look at the abstention in, say, 1991 (which was 32.6%) and equate it with something close to or less than 22%. Or even consider, without much margin for error, that 1999's 39% of abstention was only 29%, or even less.

The closest approximation to the weight of ghost voters, calculated for 2022 (1,143,604), can be found by looking at the results of the 2019 elections: these are almost as many voters as those who enabled BE, PCP-PEV, CDS-PP and PAN to elect, together, 40 MPs.

João Tiago Machado, spokesman for the CNE, asserts that "what justifies this million" ghost voters (an expression he doesn't like) "is the fact that there are only 1.5 million registered voters abroad" when in fact, he says, "our population in the diaspora is well over a million and a half". And what does this mean? It means that a large part of our emigrant community continues to use its Portuguese address for registration purposes".

It's an attachment to the land of my birth, and perhaps a certain insouciance, a certain distancing from the census," he adds.

In practice," he explains. What happens is that someone who lives in Braga, for example, but actually lives in Paris, when you knock on the door for the census or send a letter it ends up not appearing in the census records because in reality no one lived in that house because the person actually lives abroad". 

This absence has an immediate impact on the final figures: "Abstention has erroneous values. We have a margin of 10 % that doesn't exist, that ends up not being real because people don't live where he says they do. João Tiago Machado believes that this margin should be "removed from the accounts", for a better reading, "in order to have an exact notion of reality, a more faithful portrait."

For Marina Costa Lobo, Doctor of Political Science at Oxford University and Senior Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences-UL, what is at stake is "the quality of our democracy and the erroneous and distorted perception of the civic sense of the Portuguese". Another warning is that this discrepancy could have "consequences for the distribution of seats by constituency and prevent a serious discussion on the reform of the electoral system.

The consequence is unprecedented, as the researchers point out the distorted abstention and the real problem of representativeness in the constituencies. And in the end the abstention rate is gigantic and may have consequences on the elections on Sunday.

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