No, it is not your right

Francesco Martin
Current events

Power is the public and the public is power, but if the public does not exist, or rather does not express itself, can democracy really exist?


Analysing the concept of democracy, δῆμος and κράτος by adopting a legislative, philosophical and even literal translation, it is clear that democracy cannot exist without the existence of a social agglomeration of individuals, namely the population, which exercises power through consultation.
Hence, power is the public and the public is power; but if the public does not exist, or rather does not express itself, can democracy truly exist?

As it is widely known, elections were held in Italy on the 25th of September, resulting in a clear victory for the centre-right.
What else emerges with such incredible power and vehemence that it cannot be ignored, however, is the percentage of those who went to the polls to exercise what is one of the main rights recognised by our Constitution: our right to vote.
A record of abstentionism has been reached, noting that only 64% of those entitled to vote, actually went to the polls.
If this figure alone appears severe, it causes even greater concern when compared with historical precedents: from 1946 to the present day, the level of those who have decided not to vote has increased more or less constantly[1].
Therefore, there has been a progressive and large increase in the number of people who have not voted since the first years after Italy established democracy.
If one wishes to broaden the prospect, from an EU perspective and examine the rankings, our country ranks roughly in the middle.
The most virtuous country in this regard is Luxembourg, followed by Belgium, Malta and the northern European states; conversely, abstentionism prevails in the eastern European states, such as Greece, France and Ireland[2].
Nonetheless, what must be specified is that in Luxembourg, Belgium and Greece, voting is compulsory (meaning going to the polling station), which thus justifies the percentages of the first two states, while it points out that in Greece, this legal provision has not effectively placed a limit on abstentionism.
In fact, irrespective of the presence of a legal obligation, every citizen, must (or should) care about the existence and proper functioning of certain essential aspects that characterise all countries, especially a democratic state, that guarantee certain fundamental rights for the individual and the community.
As a result, the people, who are not subjects but conscious citizens, can exercise the highest form of democratic power, actively participating in political and legislative life.
Not exercising the right to vote, regardless of one’s political affiliation, represents a lack of awareness of one’s rights and prerogatives.
This is why the low affluence in elections does not represent a defeat or a victory, but rather the disappointment for such a high level of disinterest in the res publica that, before being political, represents an educational and social problem that should trigger deep reflection in each and every one of us.

However, alongside the issue of non-participation in voting, there is a second, perhaps even more serious matter: the impossibility for out-of-towners to vote.
In order to exercise the right to vote, the eligible citizen must go to their commune of residence, i.e., the polling station indicated on their polling card.
But what happens if a person is outside their municipality for work, studies or other reasons? They simply cannot vote.
Or better, it depends.
In fact, only certain categories of voters are allowed to vote in Italy outside their municipal districts of residence, such as those admitted to hospitals and nursing homes, military personnel, sailors, members of the sectional electoral office and the forces of law and order; in addition, list representatives appointed by parties may vote at the polling station where they perform these functions if they are voters in the same multi-national constituency for the Chamber of Deputies, and in the same region of the Senate.
For those voters who do not fall under these categories, and must reach their town of residence in order to exercise their right to vote, there are reduced fares for travelling by train, plane or ship.
However, these concessions do not entail full reimbursement of the travel costs necessary to go to one’s own municipality of residence, bearing in mind that the age group mostly affected by what is utter discrimination are people between 18 and 35 (about 5 million people).
Again, if one looks at the situation from a European perspective, Italy, together with Malta and Cyprus, is one of the only States that does not guarantee the vote to nonresidents.

On closer inspection, the following Law No. 1714/2019 still stuck in the parliamentary procedures, stipulates that “Voters who, in accordance with subsection 1, intend to exercise their right to vote in a municipality other than their own municipality of residence must submit an online application, using their digital identity through the Public Digital Identity System, at least forty-five days before the date set for the holding of the election.
When submitting the online application provided for in subsection 2, the voter must attach:
(a) a certificate of enrolment at a university whose head office is located in a region other than that of the voter’s municipality of residence, if the application is submitted by an off-site student;
b) a copy of the employment contract, or a certification from their employer, if the request is presented by an employee living in a commune located in a region other than that in which the commune in whose electoral roll they are registered is situated.
c) a medical certificate attesting the need to live in a commune situated in another region other than that in which the commune on whose electoral roll he/she is registered if the request is presented for reasons of treatment.
At the time of exercising their vote in the hypotheses envisaged by the provisions of articles 2 and 3, the voter must present at the polling station, in addition to their polling card and their identity document, a receipt certifying that they have submitted the application referred to in paragraph 2 of this article at least forty-five days before the date of the poll and that they have accepted the same application, indicating the polling station to which they belong with regards to their permanent address“.

Regardless of the proposed law which has already been tabled, the current legal framework must necessarily be changed.
Our state cannot truly be called a democracy when one of the fundamental rights of any social tissue is being denied, mainly the right to vote.
Nor can one hide behind the fig leaf of: “but after all, what does it cost to go back home or change your residency?“.
In fact, this would entail an economic burden on a group of the population that still, in most cases, does not have an independent income and cannot, and frankly should not face costs for exercising a constitutionally provided right that thus cannot be subject to charges.
If we want to pride ourselves on being a truly democratic and European State, we cannot allow this issue to drag on any longer. Not only does the lack of the possibility to vote represent an injury to rights, but it also leads to a habit of not being involved in public affairs, as well as creates unsuspecting and unaware citizens who are disinterested in the democratic process.
So, the proposed law highlighted earlier seems, to me, to resolve this issue. It will not be perfect and might entail a slight increase in bureaucracy, but it will at least guarantee respect for the Constitution and make people no longer second-class citizens, but rather actors in the democratic life of the country.
And this is much needed.

Power is the public and the public is power, but if the public does not exist, or rather does not express itself, can democracy really exist?“.

[1]  For the precise percentage see link

[2] For the updated data see  link.

[3] For the complete text see link.

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