Wednesday 26 July 2017

Nominations and conduct of count are responsibility of Sheriff and his deputies

This has been one of Brendan Walsh's busiest elections. As Dublin City Sheriff he is responsible for overseeing general elections, by-elections and referenda throughout the city area and is the returning officer who announces the winning candidates in Dublin when the votes are counted.

The past few weeks have been hectic for this Sheriff. In the days immediately after the election is called, Mr Walsh and his staff begin to deal with every candidate who wants to run for election in the Dublin city area.

"The election is entirely my responsibility" he says. "Once I receive a writ from the Clerk of the Dail to hold an election the Central Bank transfers money to a special account to allow me to take on staff and open the office for nominations."

For the following three and a half days Mr Walsh accepts or sometimes refuses nominations.

Those who aren't allowed to put their names on the ballot paper could be under age, for example, but a more usual reason is that the Sheriff won't allow them to use a name other than that which they are known by on the ballot paper.

In this election, a woman who wanted to adopt "Champion Sports" between her forename and surname was refused.

Tattoo artist

Another candidate John Hyland told the Sheriff he wanted to be registered as John "Pluto" Hyland, arguing that he was known as tattoo artist Pluto Hyland.

Mr Walsh took some time to check this out and decided he could use the name, but without the inverted commas, so he is running as John Pluto Hyland.

Once this part of the process is completed his next focus is ensuring that the voting system runs smoothly by hiring hundreds of people to act as presiding officers, poll clerks and supervisors to monitor the count across Dublin's six constituencies.

Early on February 25th his election day will begin by driving to the Phoenix Park to meet President McAleese when she casts her vote.

The rest of the day is "crisis management" he says, dealing with broken stamps, loose staples and replacing any polling station staff who may be unable to do their duty on the day.

After the polls close, he will bring the ballot boxes to the RDS count centre under Garda escort and put everything in place for the count. Before leaving he will seal every door.

"I will be the last person out and the first person in the next morning" he explains.

The counting of the votes can be a long process that culminates in Mr Walsh announcing the official results for the candidates who have been elected to represent the Dublin constituencies in the next Dail.

Electronic Voting

He concedes that his job would be made easier, and would certainly be finished more quickly as a result of the adoption of electronic voting but he remains a firm opponent of this system.

When the electronic voting machines were used in a previous election, Mr Walsh saw Dublin County Sheriff, John FitzPatrick declare the winners and go home hours before the count in his constituencies brought in results.

"I opposed it then and I am vehemently opposed to it still" he says. If the machines had been capable of generating a paper trail he says it could have worked but he insists there is nothing more transparent than the current process.

"We can account for every single piece of paper that goes into the ballot box and we are correct to one vote" he says. "There is no other political system that is as transparent as that."

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