Saturday 15 December 2018

Voting in Presidential Election and referendum is off to a slow start

  • Voting is underway in the presidential election and the blasphemy referendum
  • More than 3.2m people eligible to cast their ballots today
  • Challengers to the incumbent Michael D Higgins all partook in last-minute attempts to shore up support
  • Mr Higgins opted not to run campaign events on the final day
  • Seán Gallagher called for broadcasters to review the way in which the presidential debates are run, branding them a 'farce'
President Michael D Higgins casts his vote with his wife Sabina for the Presidential Election at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park this morning.
Photo: Tony Gavin
President Michael D Higgins casts his vote with his wife Sabina for the Presidential Election at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park this morning. Photo: Tony Gavin
The ballot paper for the Presidential Election at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park this morning. Photo: Tony Gavin
Gavin Duffy is pictured casting his vote (Photo: Mark Condren)
Sean Gallagher pictured after voting in the presidential election with his wife Trish and son, Bobby, 5, and daughter Lucy, 3, at the Charlesland Sports and Recreation Centre in Greystones. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM
L-R; Joan Freeman, Liadh Ni Riada, Michael D. Higgins, Sean Gallagher, Peter Casey and Gavin Duffy pictured prior to the Primetime Presidential Election debate. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Sean Gallagher casts his vote in the presidential election with his wife Trish and son, Bobby, 5, at the Charlesland Sports and Recreation centre in Greystones. Pic credit; Damien Eagers / INM
Day off: Michael D Higgins opted not to run campaign events on the final day

Laura Larkin and Kevin Doyle

Voting is underway in the 2018 presidential election and the blasphemy referendum today - and it's said to be a low turnout so far.

The challengers to the incumbent Michael D Higgins all partook in last-minute attempts to shore up support in the last couple of days.

However, Mr Higgins opted not to run campaign events on the final day.

Presidential candidate Peter Casey has pledged to step down in five years' time and contest a second term if elected as the next president.

Sean Gallagher casts his vote in the presidential election with his wife Trish and son, Bobby, 5, at the Charlesland Sports and Recreation centre in Greystones. Pic credit; Damien Eagers / INM
Sean Gallagher casts his vote in the presidential election with his wife Trish and son, Bobby, 5, at the Charlesland Sports and Recreation centre in Greystones. Pic credit; Damien Eagers / INM

Meeting voters in Dublin, Mr Casey said he will step down after five years to trigger an election as he believes the seven-year term is too long, but will run again.

"The date of the next presidential election will be the date of the county council elections. I will be resigning - May 23, 2024. I'll be stepping down at the appropriate time, whenever the appropriate notice is," he said.

Meanwhile, businessman Seán Gallagher called for broadcasters to review the way in which the presidential debates are run, branding them a "farce".

He said the debates should be modernised to allow a portion devoted to the vision of the candidate and a separate portion for questions to the candidates "rather than trying to create a gladiatorial environment".

President Michael D Higgins casts his vote with his wife Sabina for the Presidential Election at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park this morning.
Photo: Tony Gavin
President Michael D Higgins casts his vote with his wife Sabina for the Presidential Election at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park this morning. Photo: Tony Gavin

Joan Freeman said she had not thought beyond the results of this election when asked about her political future, adding she is "thrilled" with her campaign.

Mr Higgins's campaign warned against complacency in an email to supporters.

Gavin Duffy is pictured casting his vote (Photo: Mark Condren)
Gavin Duffy is pictured casting his vote (Photo: Mark Condren)

Meanwhile, in his final statement Gavin Duffy cited Brexit, climate change and issues around social media among the challenges facing Ireland.

For her part, Sinn Féin's Liadh Ní Riada said she pledged to be a president who would lead the conversation about a united Ireland.

The ballot paper for the Presidential Election at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park this morning.
Photo: Tony Gavin
The ballot paper for the Presidential Election at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park this morning. Photo: Tony Gavin

Voting got under way on the 11 occupied islands yesterday.

Islanders traditionally vote one day ahead of the rest of the country to ensure there is no delay in transferring the ballot boxes to the mainland.

In total there are 2,601 islanders eligible to vote.

Voting today? Why there's no need to be confused by the process for either ballot

Irish citizens can vote at the presidential election and blasphemy referendum today.

More than 3.2 million people are eligible to cast their ballots.

Polling stations will be open between 7am and 10pm and polling cards have been issued to all voters.

You don't need a polling card to vote but if you haven't received one, you should contact your local authority and check that you are on the register.

The usual rules will apply while voting, bring identification with you and no political badges or clothing are allowed.

Selfies with your ballots are strictly prohibited. You will receive two ballots at the polling station.

Presidential Election

There is only one position up for grabs here, and the electoral system is a variant of the PR-STV used at all other elections. The ballot will list the six candidates in alphabetical order accompanied by photos.

On this occasion, none of the candidates will have party affiliations.

Liadh Ní Riada is contesting the election for Sinn Féin but has chosen not to use her party logo. Michael D Higgins was the Labour Party candidate in 2011, but he resigned his party membership upon election and on this occasion he used a specific clause in the Constitution that allows a sitting president to nominate themselves.

You should rank the candidates in order of your preferences. Simply put number '1' next to your preferred candidate and number '2' next to your second preferred candidate and so on. You can rank as many or as few candidates as you like.

Some voters may choose to cast just one preference while others like to vote all the way to the end. It is up to each individual voter and there is no right or wrong way.

Blasphemy Referendum

The referendum is asking voters if they agree with the proposal to remove blasphemy as an offence from the Constitution.

Blasphemy is defined as "the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things".

It was included in the original version of the Constitution in 1937, but the Constitutional Convention recommended it should be removed and the Government proceeded with its recommendation.

The campaign has been very quiet as very few people oppose the proposal, but equally many who want to see it removed have not been exercised enough to do much campaigning.

The design of all referendum ballots is set out in law and unfortunately the requirements mean that ballots are not that clear for voters.

The ballot paper will include the title of the bill proposing to amend the Constitution, in this case the 37th Amendment to the Constitution, and voters will be asked if they agree or disagree with the proposal. If you agree with deleting blasphemy, you should mark a clear X in the Yes box.

If you disagree with deleting blasphemy, you should mark a clear X in the No box.

Counting

When the polls close, all the ballot boxes will be transferred to count centres around the country. Ballot boxes will be opened at 9am on Saturday.

First, the presidential election and referendum ballots will be separated, then counting will begin.

For the presidential election, all of the number one votes for each candidate will be put into piles and then they will be counted.

A candidate must reach a set number of votes, known as the quota, to be elected. The quota is calculated using a formula which includes the number of votes cast and the number of seats available.

On this occasion, there is just one seat so it is very straightforward.

This could be a very unusual election, the polls suggest that Michael D Higgins may be elected on the first count.

His current poll numbers give him support levels between 65pc and 70pc and if the polls translate to votes, it will all be over after the first count.

If there is a big surprise and Mr Higgins does not reach the quota on the first count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be eliminated and the second preferences on his or her votes will be examined and added to the bundle for the candidate that receives the preference.

These number two preferences then have the same weight as a number one.

Referendum counting is very straightforward. The ballots are put in Yes and No bundles, counted, and a simple majority applies.

- Dr Theresa Reidy is a political scientist at University College Cork

Irish Independent

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