A MISERABLY low turnout and vast confusion over the ballot papers have put Taoiseach Enda Kenny's proposal to abolish the Seanad in jeopardy.
Counting of votes in the referendums on the Seanad and the Court of Appeal will begin this morning at 9.
The turnout is expected to only be around 35pc – but possibly even less than the dismal 33pc turnout in last year's Children's Referendum.
A low turnout is regarded as a bad outcome for the Government's prospects of abolishing the Seanad.
The results of a small exit poll by the Irish Independent also indicated the outcome would be far closer than predicted.
Polling was marred by reports of voter confusion about which ballot paper was for Seanad abolition and which paper was for the Court of Appeal vote.
And there was also confusion over what the 'Yes' and 'No' vote meant due to the poor wording of the ballot paper.
Voters were asked if they approved of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill – the "Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Eireann) Bill 2013".
Anecdotal evidence suggested some voters believed a 'Yes' vote was for the retention of the Seanad and a 'No' vote was for abolition.
Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan admitted there was an element of confusion.
"In spite of the best efforts of the Referendum Commission and those campaigning, there is evidence of voter confusion. Presiding officers in polling stations are being put in invidious positions where they have to advise voters on the question of Yes or No," he said.
But the Referendum Commission insisted that its €3m information campaign had been designed to give adequate guidance to voters.
A spokesman said the chair of the commission, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, had repeatedly told voters during media interviews that they had to vote Yes to abolish the Seanad and No to retain it. The spokesman said that this message had also been clearly displayed in the commission's booklet.
Academic experts said the ballot paper should not cause confusion to voters. UCC politics lecturer Dr Theresa Reidy said: "The system should serve the citizen – not test them," she said.
The results of the two referendums are expected this afternoon.
- Fionnan Sheahan and Michael Brennan