Senado de España | SpainSenado de España | Spain
Written on September, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about unprecedented challenges to various sectors worldwide. One significant sector affected was the legislative body, where deliberations and decision-making processes had to continue for the smooth functioning of the government. This essay focuses on the Spanish Senate House’s remote experience, making it the first legislative body to adapt to remote mechanisms using virtual private networks during the pandemic.
Remote Work Implementation
As the pandemic took hold in Spain, civil servants in the Senate were forced to work from home. To ensure that parliamentary sessions continued, the Senate started implementing remote mechanisms using virtual private networks. Initially, only five people had connected remotely to perform tasks, but by September 2020, this number had risen to 280 people connected simultaneously to the system.
Transition to Videoconferencing
The Senate began exploring the possibility of holding meetings through videoconferencing for different areas of the House. Starting with the senate governing council, they first used Apple’s Facetime application, then transitioned to Zoom, and finally settled on Microsoft Teams. This remote experience was later extended to other governing bodies of the committees with their spokespersons.
Remote Participation and Voting Challenges
The pandemic necessitated remote committee meetings and plenary sessions. The Senate was particularly concerned about the plenary sessions, as the plenary room’s limited capacity and social distancing measures made it impossible for all senators to be present simultaneously. Additionally, while senators could participate in sessions by streaming, voting became a significant issue.
Pre-existing Remote Participation System
Fortunately, the Senate had a remote participation system in place since 2013, allowing senators on maternity leave or with health issues to vote from home. However, this system had limitations: it could only be used by some senators under authorization, and votes had to be carried out before the session took place, preventing senators from voting on all proposals.
Adapting the System for Pandemic
The Senate began modifying the system in April 2020 to adapt to the new circumstances. The java application, working with an app on senators’ mobile devices, allowed them to vote easily using a form with the proposals of each plenary session authorized to be voted. A security mechanism was implemented, involving a one-time password sent to the senator’s official mobile phone to verify their identity.
Post-Pandemic Voting System
In June 2020, a new version of the system was launched, allowing all senators to vote with the new remote system without the authorization mechanism. The voting process now took place in batches, with the president announcing the result of the voting after each recess. A contingency plan was also put in place for incidents in which senators could not vote remotely, allowing them to call a designated phone number to cast their vote.
Integrating Electronic Voting System
The Senate updated its electronic voting system in 2020, integrating the computer system and the voting system so that the president could announce the voting results on the plenary floor’s screen.
Future of Remote Deliberations
While the Senate hopes for a return to normalcy, the remote experience has paved the way for continued use of the new system in the future. Senators on maternity leave, with health issues, or on official trips can vote remotely using the updated system, differentiating votes made in the plenary floor from those done remotely.
The Spanish Senate House’s successful adaptation to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic serves as an example for legislative bodies worldwide. By embracing technology and making necessary modifications, the Senate was able to continue its essential work without compromising on safety and efficiency. This experience has not only helped the Senate overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic but has also set a foundation for a more inclusive and flexible future in parliamentary processes.
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