Every four years, citizens choose their municipal leaders but while nationals are automatically registered, foreigners have to go to their Junta de Freguesia (Parish Council) to make their registration in order to be able to vote in the next elections, on 26 September.
The deadline for registration ends 60 days before election day, specifically on 27 July. This means that expats only have few days left to guarantee that they have their say in Portuguese politics.
If you appreciate the work of your mayor, then this is a chance to support them and to make your voice heard.
Few expats registered to vote
According to Luís Encarnação, mayor of Lagoa County, in an interview with The Portugal News, there are very few foreigners listed to vote in the municipality, even though the number of expats is extremely high.
“Of the almost 5,000 foreigners who live in Lagoa County, only about 600 are registered to vote”. This number dates back to April this year.
Lagoa is not the only Portuguese council where the number of foreign residents is huge. All over the Algarve, especially, there are many expats who are residents. In Vila do Bispo around a third of the population are foreigners, in Lagos it’s nearly 30 percent, in Portimão it’s around 20 percent, in Albufeira nearly a third and in Loulé as well as Tavira a quarter of the population is a foreign resident.
As we can see through these numbers, the Algarve has a great percentage of foreign inhabitants and if everyone makes the decision to vote, it could even decide the election results, which is representative of the strength that the entire community can have not only in the Algarve, but in the entire country.
While the importance of the foreign vote is easy to see, actually being able to register has been proving a problem for some.
People struggling to register to vote
We have received reports from readers who are unhappy with the process of registration – some of them complaining about difficulties in the actual process and others who have not been able to register at all.
“I went to my Parish Council and was turned away because they said that my pre Brexit residency is not valid, but I also have a document from SEF to prove that I am resident”, said one British resident in the Algarve.
“If they want foreigners to vote then they have to understand the documentation that British people have now. SEF is not making appointments for people being able to request the documents, however, my permit is still valid and they must accept it. I'm legal in the country and allowed to vote”, they told The Portugal News.
In this case, the public servant was insisting that they would need a card instead of the papers they had. However, the resident said that it’s “impossible to have that card at the moment because SEF doesn’t schedule any appointments and my papers are valid anyway”.
After many calls and persistence, they were finally able to register with the same documents that had initially been denied.
“My advice to people is to be persistent and if the Junta won’t or can’t help then to call the Câmara directly. I was disappointed that this was a difficult process. I have lived here for many years, I speak Portuguese, I know my rights very well and I still had problems. I'm afraid that other people in a similar situation will end up giving up”.
However, confusion with documents is not the only problem. We were also contacted by people who could not register because they are not included in the system. In fact, more than 100 countries are not included, so it’s best to double check first.
Who can vote in local elections?
In addition to Portuguese citizens, foreign residents over 18 years of age have the right to vote in Municipal elections, as long as they are registered in the Portuguese census, if they are Brazilian citizens with a citizen card or ID card, or if you are from one of the following countries:
- Member States of the European Union (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Check Republic, Romania and Sweden);
- United Kingdom, with residence in Portugal prior to Brexit;
- Brazil and Cape Verde with legal residence in Portugal for over two years;
- Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Island, Norway, New Zeeland, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela with legal residence in Portugal for over three years;
That excludes everyone else, as is the case of Australian, Frank La Piram, who was unable to register in his parish. "I went to my Junta de Freguesia with my wife to do our registration, but we found out that our country is not included in the system”.
“In our area we have a very large expat population that have no power or influence to determine local government policy, which is completely unfair. We pay taxes and we would like to have a say in these elections but we can’t because Portugal only allows a few more than 30 nationalities to vote, which is not enough. What about Australians, Americans and the other 170 nationals that cannot get the right to vote because the system doesn't allow it?”
To avoid any situation like these just make sure that you are legal in the country and that your home country is included in the list of countries above.