Election 2020: Everything you need to know

What do you need to vote? Who is promising what? What are the polls saying?

Remind me, the general election vote is today, right?

Yes. Ireland’s general election for the 33rd Dáil takes place on Saturday, Feburary 8th. A Saturday polling day is unusual with all elections in recent decades taking place on a Thursday or Friday. However, Ireland’s historic 1918 election was held on a Saturday in December while the Nice Referendum and Children’s Referendum were also held on Saturdays. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he decided to hold the election on a Saturday to make voting easier for students and for families with children.

How many TDs will be elected?

A total of 160 representatives will be returned to the 33rd Dáil up from 158 in the outgoing assembly. When it comes to counting the numbers, the effective seat number is 159 because the Ceann Comhairle, the speaker in the Dáil, is automatically re-elected. That is Seán Ó Fearghaíl of Fianna Fáil who represents Kildare South. In most situations he does not vote. Therefore, a government will need 80 TDs to hold a majority, something that will almost certainly require a coalition. You can try to form your own government using our coalition builder tool currently based on political correspondent Harry McGee's predictions. The coalition builder will be updated with the real seat numbers (if required!) after counting is finished next week.

The new Dáil will meet for the first time on Thursday, February 20th.

What is the current lie of the land?

Fine Gael were the largest party in the outgoing Dáil and led a minority government with the support of Independents through a confidence-and-supply agreement with Fianna Fáil, whose members abstained on key votes.

When the Dáil was dissolved the parties had the following number of TDs:

  • Fine Gael - 47
  • Fianna Fáil - 46
  • Sinn Féin - 22
  • Labour - 7
  • Solidarity-People Before Profit - 6
  • Green Party - 3
  • Social Democrats - 2
  • Independents/Others - 24

*There is a vacant seat in Cork North-Central following the resignation of former Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy in December.

I'm still not sure if I'm registered to vote, how can I find out?
If in doubt, visit checktheregister.ie to see if your name is listed. You can also call your local authority for confirmation. However, if you're not on the list it's too late to register. 
Only Irish and British citizens aged 18 or older and residing in the State can vote in an Irish general election.

What time can I vote tomorrow?
Polling stations open at 7am and will remain open until 10pm. As this election is taking place on a Saturday, it's unclear when will be the busiest times to vote. However, the general consensus is to get out early and not leave your vote to the last minute.

I don't know where my polling station is, where do I find that out?
If you are registered to vote you should have received your polling card by now. This will tell you the name and address of your local polling station. If you cannot find your polling card or are still unsure of where your polling station is call your local city/county council. You can find a full list of councils here.

What do I need to bring with me to vote?
Quite simply, bring ID. Don't panic if you don't have your polling card. The Department of Local Government has underlined that voters on the register do not need a polling card to vote as a number of other forms of identification are acceptable.

These include a passport, driving licence, public services card, an employee identity card containing a photograph, a student identity card with a photograph, a travel document with a photograph and name, or a bank, savings or credit union book with the voter’s address in the constituency.

Voters can also show a cheque book, cheque or credit card, birth or marriage certificate, once they produce one of these with a document showing their address in the constituency.

How do I vote?

You must mark your ballot card in order of preference which means writing the number 1 opposite your first choice of candidate, followed by 2 for your second favourite, 3 for the third, and so on.

Only give one number 1 vote. Two number 1s will spoil your vote.

Do not mark the boxes with an X or tick. This will spoil your vote.

Do not add notes beside candidates’ photos, write slogans or draw pictures. This will spoil your vote.

There were 18,398 spoiled votes in the 2016 general election. Don’t be a fool and join that crew.

Should I vote all the way down the ballot paper?
Yes. To maximise the impact of your vote it is best to give every candidate a preference. Give your first preference to the candidate you most want to see elected and then in descending order of preference down to the one you like least.  
It's true that failing to vote right down through the list has only a marginal effect. But if this is repeated on a widespread basis by fellow voters it can actually assist a candidate who you would prefer to see defeated by lowering the effective quota, and making it easier for him/her to reach it. 

As an election proceeds and the number of non-transferable votes accumulates, the number required to be elected – the effective quota – falls.

Patrick Smyth explains how the system works in detail in this piece from 2016, while former political editor Stephen Collins has also written a piece on how the system works and how you can use it.

The key thing to remember is that a lower preference can never interfere with a higher one. Your number two will only come into play if your first preference is eliminated or elected and so on.

Can I take a photo in the polling station?
No. No selfies or ballot pics while at the station.

Some younger voters may be excited about taking part in their first ever national election but please, NO SELFIES!

How do transfers work?
After the first count when all the number ones have been counted, the surplus votes of a successful candidate who has exceeded the quota will be distributed.

This is done by checking the second preferences on all the ballot papers of the candidate and distributing his or her number twos in proportion.

When all the first-count surpluses have been distributed or if no candidate has been elected the returning officer will then move on to eliminating the candidate with the lowest number of votes and distributing their votes.

What is tactical voting?

One way of voting tactically is that by going all the way down the ballot paper you can support the candidate or party you want with high preferences while attempting to stop the ones you like least by putting them at the very end.
Another way of voting tactically is that where a party is running more than one candidate, committed supporters are advised to give the number one to the weakest candidate on the ticket to maximise the party's chances of winning more than one seat. If the candidate is eliminated, the vote will not be wasted as the next preference will automatically be counted.

What about the weather? I heard it’s going to be bad.

Saturday will start dry but rain will become heavy and widespread throughout the afternoon with risks of flooding. So our advice is to vote early.

Met Éireann has issued yellow wind and rain warnings for the whole country for election day with gusts of up to 110km/h.

Who has voted already?
Islanders off the coasts of constituencies Donegal, Mayo and Galway West went to the polls on Friday, one day ahead of the rest of the State. However, voters on seven islands in Cork South-West, where the islands are closer to the coast, will vote with the rest of the country on Saturday.

Who is promising what?

The party manifestos can be accessed here:

When were the leaders’ debates?

The first head-to-head debate between Varadkar and Martin was on Virgin Media One. Claire Byrne chaired a debate between the leaders of seven parties on RTÉ on Monday, January 27th. Virgin hosted another seven-way debate chaired by Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates on Thursday, January 30th, while RTÉ held a Prime Time debate between Varadkar, Martin and McDonald on February 4th. The programme was initially only going to feature the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders but amid growing momentum in the Sinn Féin campaign, the broadcaster invited McDonald on.

What are the polls saying?

The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, published on February 3rd, had Sinn Féin as the best supported party on 25 per cent. Fianna Fáil were second on 23 per cent with Fine Gael falling to 20 per cent. It was the first time Sinn Féin has emerged as the biggest party in the history of the poll series. The Greens were on 8 per cent, Labour on 4 per cent with Independents/others on 20 per cent, when undecided voters were excluded.

The first Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll published on Monday, January 20th put Fianna Fáil in the lead on 25 per cent, Fine Gael in second on 23 per cent and Sinn Féin a close third on 21 per cent.

A Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll published the previous Sunday had Fianna Fáil on 32 per cent with a 12-point lead over Fine Gael.

A Business Post/Red C Poll on published on February 2nd put Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin level on 24 per cent with Fine Gael third on 21 per cent.

Constituency profiles

Profiles of each of the 39 constituencies can be found at irishtimes.com/election2020.

Finally, how can I follow the results?

An Ipsos MRBI exit poll commissioned jointly by The Irish Times, RTÉ, TG4 and UCD will be published as soon as voting ends on Saturday. Here's a run-down of our results coverage.

The Irish Times will have reporters at all the count centres and will report on each of the 39 constituencies on irishtimes.com and our live blog will cover proceedings across the country.

Live results will appear on this page, where you can get a national snapshot or the detail of each count in your constituency.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast

Simon Bracken

Simon Bracken

Simon Bracken is a journalist at The Irish Times

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