General election during crisis could see voting spread over days

Government considers measures including allowing polling in nursing homes if ballot needed

No legislation is required to hold an election, and the difficulties around an election may decrease as  restrictions are eased. Photograph: Getty Images

No legislation is required to hold an election, and the difficulties around an election may decrease as restrictions are eased. Photograph: Getty Images

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A plan on how to hold a general election in the midst of the coronavirus crisis – including spreading voting over a number of days, giving “cocooners” a postal vote and allowing polling in nursing homes – is being drawn up within Government.

A limited number of Cabinet Ministers are aware of the plans, but sources said they are being drafted by officials on the orders of Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy on a contingency basis should the current negotiations to form a government fail.

One option being mooted is to hold voting over two or three days to allow for social distancing at polling stations. In such a scenario polling days may be allocated to certain addresses or streets, but no firm decisions have been made.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are continuing government formation talks. Labour leader Alan Kelly on Friday ruled out entering talks “at this time”.

The Greens are expected to open nominations for the position of party leader within weeks. The party constitution stipulates that a contest must be held within six months of a general election. In order to be nominated a candidate must secure the backing of 50 party members. There are some 2,700 members, up from 700 two years ago.

Currently, an estimated 25,000 people are eligible for postal votes in a general election, but officials in Mr Murphy’s department are considering extending postal voting to the over-70s and others who are cocooning.

Nursing homes

It is also understood that special arrangements would have to be made for people in nursing homes. One solution mentioned is special voting, where votes can be cast in hospitals, nursing homes or similar settings.

Officials are also examining how to conduct counts. The recent Seanad election count, which was carried out with a limited number of people present but was broadcast live, is seen as a model that could be followed in constituencies.

No legislation is required to hold an election, and the difficulties around an election may decrease as restrictions are eased.

Consideration is also being given as to how staff could work at polling stations.