Update at 11:45 p.m. E.T. with preliminary election results.
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans cast ballots Sunday in a non-binding referendum on whether to split with Spain — a move opposed by Madrid, which fears that even an informal vote could stoke desires for independence.
With 88 percent of the votes counted, a strong majority of voters were in favor of independence; however, only two million people voted, out of 5.4 million eligible to vote.
The referendum, referred to as a “consultation of citizens” comes after the Spanish government threw legal roadblocks in the way of a formal vote on the question.
The BBC reports of those voting: “Patiently they queue to register before heading for one of the nine precious cardboard ballot boxes, at tables around the school, supervised by happy volunteers.”
Catalonia, a wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million that borders France, has its own language and a distinct cultural heritage despite having long been part of Spain. Many in the region, the capital of which is Barcelona, resent that they contribute more to the Spanish economy than they get in return.
Angels Costa, a 52-year-old shopkeeper in Barcelona was quoted by Reuters as saying: “If they don’t understand us, they should respect us and each of us go on their separate way.”
“Pro-independence organizations have campaigned vigorously for a big turnout from the wealthy region’s 7.5 million people, and more than 40,000 volunteers were helping set up informal voting stations on Sunday.
“Pro-secession politicians hope a high level of support will prompt central government to sit down with them and negotiate more tax and political autonomy, or even convince Madrid to accept a full-blown independence referendum in the future.”