Military review under way after Defence Forces election postal votes delayed

Minister expects authorities to take necessary action to ensure voting rights of soldiers

Some members of the Defence Forces, including some personnel serving overseas, did not get to vote in the local and European elections because they only received their postal ballots the day before the poll took place.

Fianna Fáil defence spokesman Jack Chambers described it as a "glorious administrative blunder", but Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe insisted it was a matter for the military authorities who are conducting a review of what happened.

Mr Kehoe said the Department of Defence’s only role was to provide a link between the franchise section of the Department of Local Government and the military authorities to “ensure that appropriate timelines for postal voting are agreed”.

He said the concerns of personnel who had not received a voting paper on time were being examined by the military authorities to ensure processes and procedures were “optimised”.

The review is due to conclude shortly and Mr Kehoe said he expected the authorities to take any necessary action to ensure the right of military personnel to vote.

It is not yet clear how many people were affected, but the review is expected to establish the number.

Mr Chambers said: “I think it’s at least 100 based on the people who were on to me and reports from around the country and it could be in the early 100s. Some people didn’t get any vote and some only got it on the day before, when it was too late to be returned.”

Single digits

He said “this meant it was too late for them to vote and return their postal ballots on time. This also affected some members serving overseas.” The number of people affected on overseas mission is said to be in single digits, however.

The issue is also understood to be complicated by the existence of postal ballots of former personnel who are still registered to vote with the military but who are no longer serving, while some personnel had not registered on time.

“The fact that there is a review, there has been a probable breach of the Electoral Act and the democratic system and people who wanted to exercise their democratic right to vote were prevented from doing so is an alarming development,” Mr Chambers said.

When he raised the issue in the Dáil during the week, the Fianna Fáil spokesman said the matter was another blow to the Defence Forces in the wake of the crisis over falling numbers in the service because of pay and conditions.

However, Mr Kehoe insisted his office and department did not have anything to do with sending out and collecting postal votes.

“Responsibility for the distribution of postal votes rests with the military authorities. The responsibility for returning the vote by post rests with the individual except in the cases of personnel overseas where the military authorities arrange for the votes to be returned,” Mr Kehoe said.