New rules for counting votes after Supreme Court decision

Judges struck down result of 2014 local elections in Listowel over numbering

Returning officers for elections have been instructed to treat as a spoilt vote any ballot paper that has a sequence of numbers that does not begin with a “1” or “one”.

The Department of the Environment yesterday issued a new Guidance Memorandum to Returning Officers, following a Supreme Court decision this week that struck down the result of the 2014 local elections, in the Listowel electoral area of north Kerry.

The five-judge court upheld the challenge of former Fianna Fáil senator Dan Kiely against the result.

At issue was whether a ballot paper commencing with a sequence of numbers beginning with three, four, or five (but with no number one marked) could be deemed as valid votes expressing a first preference.


The decision of the Kerry returning officer to accept such votes was held by the court to be a mistaken interpretation of section five of the Local Elections (Petitions and Disqualifications) Act 1974.

‘Invalid ballot paper’

The memorandum, which is to be circulated to all the State’s returning officers, will instruct officers that in future, any numerical sequence on a ballot paper that begins with a number other than “1” or “one” is “not to be read as clearly indicating a preference and, therefore, would be treated as an invalid ballot paper”.

The May 2014 local elections took place on the same day as the European elections.

Mr Kiely lost out by the narrowest margin on the 11th and final count.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times