Editorial: Voter suppression undermines democracy


What happens when you deny a democracy its democracy?

Spain has a had a turbulent history with Catalonia, an autonomous community within the country that was absorbed by Spain in the 12th century. In recent years, many Catalonians have expressed interest in a vote for independence in light of Spain’s prolonged economic crisis acting as a financial drain on Catalonia, as well as the longterm suppression of Catalonian language in favor of Spanish. 

The Catalonian government called for a referendum for its people to decide whether or not their community of 7.5 million people would become their own independent state on June 9 and held a vote on Oct. 1. Those in favor of independence won in a landslide with 91 percent of the votes.

While many are celebrating these results, the process as a whole is troubling. In the end, roughly 40 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum. This is largely due to the violent voter suppression by the Spanish police. The international community watched in horror as videos surfaced of law enforcement officers beating and stomping on voters, shooting nonviolent protesters with rubber bullets, dragging individuals out of voting booths and confiscating entire ballot boxes and their contents. 

This is unacceptable. The Spanish government is well within their right to ignore the results, unfortunately, as Spain’s constitution outright forbids a referendum such as this without the Spanish government’s explicit approval, but such a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of its citizens is deplorable. The police injured an estimated 893 citizens, 18 of whom were arrested. The Catalonian police force, too, is being investigated for civil disobedience for not aiding Spanish police in suppressing the referendum. 

A democratic nation has the right to contest an illegal vote, but turning its police forces, the very men and women whose job is to protect and serve its citizens, to beat innocent people in the streets and keeps their voices from being heard is a tragedy and a moral crime. 

Too often we take for granted our right to vote. The United States, too, is no stranger to police brutality and voter suppression, thankfully not at this extreme level. We must remain aware of these injustices and continue to make our voices heard by our governments if we want our democratic nations to remain our own. After all, governments exist to serve their people, not the other way around.