News Elections 2019

Thursday 22 August 2019

The simple guide for voters facing a ballot bonanza at the polls tomorrow

Your choice could be decisive. Don’t let others decide for you. Stock picture
Your choice could be decisive. Don’t let others decide for you. Stock picture

Theresa Reidy

Voters going to the polls tomorrow will face a ballot bonanza. Ireland is holding local elections, European Parliament elections, a divorce referendum, and in Cork city, Limerick and Waterford people will get to vote in a local referendum, known as a plebiscite, on whether they should have a directly elected mayor in their authority area.

The eligibility rules for these votes vary. All Irish citizens, resident in Ireland, are eligible to vote at the elections and the referendum. EU citizens living in Ireland may vote at the European Parliament elections so long as they are not exercising their voting right in their home country.

All other residents may vote at the local elections and all registered voters in each of the three areas holding plebiscites may cast a vote in that decision.

Each voter needs to be listed on the register of electors. This is the list of all voters eligible to vote and is maintained by local authorities.

Voters need to complete a voter registration form to be included on the list. Once a voter is added, they receive all required election and referendum material.

If a voter moves address, they need to update their registration records with the relevant local authority. The closing date for new additions to the register has passed for these votes, but names can be added again later this year.

Polling cards have been distributed and have information on the location of the polling station for each voter. Voting will take place tomorrow from 7am to 10pm. If you have not received a polling card, you can check the register online at checktheregister.ie or you can phone the franchise office in your local authority.

You do not need a polling card to vote, but you must be listed on the register of electors and you should bring some identification with you to the polling station.

Almost 2,000 candidates are competing for the 949 positions in the 31 local authorities. Each local authority area is broken into smaller local electoral areas.

Candidates for each local electoral area will be listed on the ballot paper in alphabetical order.

The candidate's address, occupation, a photograph and political party affiliation if they have one will also appear on the ballot.

Voters rank candidates in order of their preference - 1, 2, 3.

Local government in Ireland is very weak in comparison to other European countries.

Councillors have no powers in health or education but do adopt the annual budget for the council, set the rate for the local property tax and commercial rates and shape development policy for each area.

Local authorities have an important role in housing, although there has been little discussion of this during the campaign.

Ireland is divided into three constituencies for the European Parliament elections. These are Dublin, Ireland South and Midlands-North-West and 11 MEPs will be elected from these constituencies.

Because the UK is leaving the EU, Ireland has been allocated two additional MEPs. These MEPs will be chosen through the election, bringing the total to 13 - but the last MEP elected in Dublin and Ireland South will be 'kept on ice' until Brexit actually happens.

There are 59 candidates contesting the European Parliament elections. As with local elections, the electoral system is proportional representation by the single transferable vote. Candidates will appear on the ballot in alphabetical order and voters rank them in order of their preference, 1, 2, 3.

Voters can express a preference for every candidate, or for as many candidates they have a view on. This is entirely at the discretion of the voter. It is often said that while a person has one vote, they can offer many choices.

The divorce referendum poses one single question that addresses two issues; how long people must be living apart before applying for a divorce, and the recognition of foreign divorces. If passed, the proposal will empower the Dáil and Seanad to legislate for these two issues.

The design of the referendum ballot paper is set out in law and it will include the title of the bill proposing to amend the Constitution. You will be asked if you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution. If you agree with the proposal, you should mark a clear X in the Yes box. If you disagree, you should mark a clear X in the No box.

Voters in Cork city, Waterford and Limerick will be asked to vote in a plebiscite on whether the position of a directly elected should be created. If the proposals are passed, elections will be held in the coming years.

The directly elected mayors would assume many of the powers currently held by the council chief executives, who are appointed, not elected.

Ballot boxes will be transported to count centres once polls close tomorrow.

When the boxes are opened on Saturday, ballots will be sorted.

European Parliament election ballots will be transported to centralised count centres in Cork, Dublin and Castlebar, Co Mayo.

Local election results will be announced through Saturday and Sunday but the first European results are not expected until late on Sunday. Counting in the plebiscites will start on Monday.

In 2019, we are celebrating 100 years of democracy in Ireland. Your vote matters. In local elections, candidates can often be separated by a handful of votes.

Don't let others decide for you.

Irish Independent

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