The images shocked Spain and reverberated around Europe. Officers with Spain’s national security forces, in full riot gear, smashing their way into polling stations, dragging women out by the hair, and firing rubber bullets indiscriminately into crowds as they turned out to vote. It was all part of a coordinated crackdown on Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum — banned by Spain’s highest court, but held in defiance of Madrid by Catalonia’s passionate separatists who felt their long-held dream of an independent state was close at hand. Despite the attempt to thwart the vote, more than 2 million Catalans made their voice heard. Now CNN has learned more details of the extraordinary covert operation that was mounted to ensure the referendum took place. A network of thousands of officials and volunteers squirreled away ballot boxes, conferred by encrypted messages and met in secret in an effort to get as many people to the polls as possible.
From the educators who opened up their schools to the people who ferried the ballots and anyone who counted the votes, all risked a fine of up to 300,000 euros (about $350,000). Higher-ranking officials could even face jail. The chief of the Catalan police force, Josep Lluís Trapero, was called to Madrid this week to answer accusations of sedition, or fomenting a rebellion against the state, a crime that carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.
… Voting was plagued by technical difficulties and confusion. Aleix says some volunteers only received their instructions at the last minute, and the websites they were using to check voter identification jammed; he was meant to coordinate four voting stations but for most the day he was only able to run two.