Spoiled votes included remarks ‘Can’t decide’ and ‘Refuse to be bullied’

More than 6,000 rejected for reasons such as no clear preference, no stamp and writing

Referendum ballot paper: Nationally, there were 6,042 spoiled votes out of the 2,159,655 cast, just 0.27 per cent of the total. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Referendum ballot paper: Nationally, there were 6,042 spoiled votes out of the 2,159,655 cast, just 0.27 per cent of the total. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Most of the spoiled votes cast in the abortion referendum were undecided voters, who were clear about their indecision.

“A lot of voters marked X in both boxes,” said Dublin City local returning officer James Barry. Or they marked an X between the Tá and Níl option.

The returning officer’s legal adviser, Michael O’Malley, said for adjudication, spoiled votes were divided into four categories “no marking, no clear preference, no stamp and writing” on the ballot paper.

He pointed out that “the statutory bias is always towards trying to give the vote” and that a vote with a tick rather than an X is still valid.

When adjudication was done in one Dublin constituency – Dublin Bay South – there were 126 spoiled ballots out of 43,343 cast.

Nationally, there were 6,042 spoiled votes out of the 2,159,655 cast, just 0.27 per cent of the total.

Some were left blank and a number did not have the perforation the official at the polling station is obliged to stamp to validate the voting paper.

Many were rejected for writing.

In some cases it was a simple declaration: “Spoiled Vote”, “Don’t Know”, “Neither” or “I can’t decide”. One voter wrote: “I am aware I’m spoiling this vote. I would like to vote Yes but can’t because of the 12 weeks.”

‘A farce’

On another ballot paper, the voter had written: “Not voting. Don’t agree with either side. Referendum is a farce. Women who need abortion and women who want it are different things.”

In one case the voter wrote: “I refuse to be bullied into a Yes vote”.

Another voter said “Repeal this toxic Constitution now”.

On one ballot paper, the voter had written “Hard cases – Unrestricted”.

A longer contribution on another paper stated: “This referendum is no longer about the inhumane amendment and more about the inhumane legislation that supports killing healthy babies of healthy mothers. It stinks.”

In one case the vote was rejected because the voter had marked X in the Tá box but then wrote “A Big Yes” in the Níl box. The adjudicating officials pointed out that while the intention was clear no writing is allowed on the ballot paper.

Mr O’Malley said it would be a much higher percentage in a general election because “there’s a bigger selection of places that people can screw it up. But here it’s less.”

As the result was so clearly in favour of repeal of the Eighth Amendment, the spoiled votes made no difference to the outcome and were of little interest to political parties.

Mr O’Malley recalled that in the divorce referendum, when the electorate divided 50.2 per cent in favour to 49.8 per cent against, a difference of just 10,000 votes between the two sides , “there were a lot of agents” at adjudications arguing over each vote.