This study, entitled “After all, how many people abstain in Portugal?”, was published by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation and was authored by researchers João Cancela, José Santana Pereira and João Bernardo Narciso.
According to the investigation, the electoral roll in Portugal, in 2021, had “around one million more voters compared to estimates of the resident population with Portuguese citizenship, aged 18 or over”.
“If we took as a denominator of electoral participation, not the number of registered voters, but the estimate of Portuguese adults residing in Portugal, participation in the national territory in the 2022 legislative elections would be around 65%, a value of 7 points above the 58% officially registered”, he says.
In percentages, the study indicates, that the deviation between the national electoral rolls and the number of residents is around 11.4%, which represents an increase of almost 5% when compared to the beginning of the century and places Portugal “well above the European average”.
“Portugal is the fifth country among the 27 countries of the European Union in which the asymmetry between the number of registered voters and residents is greatest, behind Romania, Latvia, Greece and Bulgaria”, the study reads.
According to the researchers, the main cause of this “over-registration” is the fact that “voters who regularly reside abroad remain registered to vote in Portugal and who, therefore, could be registered in emigration circles”.
The authors estimate that, “for every three Portuguese adults who emigrated between 2019 and 2021, at least one of them will not have registered abroad”.
“The maintenance of these emigrant citizens on the national electoral rolls, who in few cases will be able to travel to Portugal to vote, ends up increasing the abstention rate”, he highlights.
Another factor identified by the study to explain this deviation is related to some “under-representation in the estimates of the resident population in the Censuses”, despite noting that, even if the Censuses covered 100% of the population, “the electoral over-registration would still be, of 790 thousand voters (8.5%)”.
To combat this phenomenon, the authors propose that “conditions be created that encourage the registration of citizens living outside the country in electoral constituencies abroad”, as well as “making the exercise of these citizens’ right to vote more flexible”.
On this last point, the authors defend in particular “the extension of early mobility voting to the network of embassies and consulates abroad, which would allow any citizen who so desired to be able to vote for their electoral constituency in the national territory even if they were in outside the country.”
However, the authors consider that “a voter registration that suffers from excessive registration is clearly preferable to a census with rules that are too strict”.
In this sense, they are “skeptical regarding possible reforms in the process of managing and updating the electoral census that, by making it thinner and bringing its numbers closer to the estimates of the resident population, could restrict the access of citizens to the exercise of their right to vote.”