Just minutes after the first boisterous voters entered the polling station at an elementary school here on Sunday, dozens of National Police officers in riot gear smashed through the front window and began searching for the ballot boxes. But the activists who organized this controversial vote on independence for the Catalan region were two steps ahead. As the police forced their way through shouting crowds into the polling station, the organizers spirited away the ballots and hid them in the classrooms amid coloring books and crayons. An hour later, after police had driven away in their big black vans, under a hail of insults, the ballot boxes reemerged and the voting recommenced. The pattern was repeated again and again across hundreds of polling stations Sunday in the Catalan region of northeast Spain, where a secessionist movement is pushing ahead with a disputed referendum on independence that the central government in Madrid, backed by the courts, has called illegitimate and illegal.
… Meanwhile, the Spanish soccer league game between Barcelona and Las Palmas at the Camp Nou stadium went ahead without any fans in attandance.
Just before the polls opened at 9 a.m., the Catalan regional government declared that any registered voter could vote anywhere — instead of having to visit their assigned polling station in their home towns. The voting lists, the regional government said, would be digital and not printed as usual for the polling officers to check against identification cards.
But there were problems right away with registering the voters — and the online system was balky. And this, among all the other irregularities, raised questions about the legitimacy of the chaotic vote. Those who opposed the vote — especially the people who want to remain in Spain — scoffed that the Catalans were being allowed to vote as many times as they like. The regional government announced that it knew about the technical problems and was urging patience.