Referendum

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Ballot papers deemed spoiled where "reform" written

Published 05/10/2013|16:04

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A number of ballot papers are being spoiled because voters wrote "Reform" on the ballot paper.

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A decision on whether to reject a ballot is at the discretion of the local returning officer.

The rule is being interpreted in different ways across the country.

The Department of the Environment said voters "run the risk" of their vote being spoiled if they write anything on the ballot paper.

The Department said it warned against writing on ballot papers.

"It is a matter for the Returning Officer," a spokesman said.

In a number of locations, including Dublin city and Louth, returning officers ruled out any papers that had reform written on the bottom - even where the voting preference was clearly marked No.

The legislation stipulates a ballot paper is valid where "anything is written or marked which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, is calculated to identify the elector".

Last week, a prominent newspaper columnist recommended voters write "Reform" on the ballot paper.

THE LAW ON SPOILED VOTES

The law on invalid ballot papers is set out in the Referendum Act, 1994, section 34, which says:  

Invalid ballot papers.

34.—(1) A ballot paper—

(a) which does not bear the official mark, or

(b) on which the mark “x” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, clearly indicates a vote, is not placed at all or is not so placed as to indicate a vote in favour of or a vote against the proposal which is the subject of the referendum, or

(c) on which the mark “x” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, clearly indicates a vote, is so placed as to indicate both a vote in favour of and a vote against the proposal, or

(d) on which anything is written or marked which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, is calculated to identify the elector,

shall be invalid and not counted, but a ballot paper shall not be invalid by reason only of its bearing the figure “1” or the word “one” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, clearly indicates a vote in favour of or against the proposal.

(2) The local returning officer shall cause the ballot papers to be scrutinised for the purpose of discovering any papers liable to be rejected as invalid.

(3) The local returning officer shall endorse the word “rejected” on any ballot paper which under this section is not counted. The local returning officer shall prepare a statement in such form as may be directed by the Minister showing the number of ballot papers rejected under each of the paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (1) and shall, on request, allow any agent present to copy such statement.

(4) The local returning officer may endorse on any ballot paper not rejected as invalid an indication of the officer's decision on it in relation to its validity without, however, interfering with any mark placed by the elector on the ballot paper.

(5) The decision of the local returning officer, whether expressed or implied by his acts, on any question which arises in relation to any ballot paper shall be final, subject only to reversal on a referendum petition.

By Fionnan Sheahan

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