Bibles at polling stations
Sir, – Arlene Finn (May 26th) calls for the removal of Bibles from polling stations.
The Electoral Act 1992, s.111.2.(d) requires that the presiding officer is issued with a Bible.
It is a matter of law, not individual choice.
The purpose is to protect the integrity of the voting process specifically by tackling personation – a kind of voter fraud where someone attempts to assume the identity of another person and use their vote. The Act requires the presiding officer to check the identity of voters. They do this by cross-checking the register of electors and matching the name with certain proofs of identity that the voter is required to produce, eg passport, driving licence or other official photo ID.
In the absence of such proof, the presiding officer may require the voter to swear an oath, or make an affirmation that they are the person whose name is on the register.
If they object to taking an oath, either because they do not have a religious belief or that the taking of an oath is contrary to their religious belief, they can simply make an affirmation that they are the registered person, that they have not voted already and are 18 years old or older.
The fact that the Bible is on or near the point where ballot papers are issued is a reasonable effort to balance convenience and respect for voter sensitivity.
Leaving the Bible on the floor beneath the table could cause offence to those who believe the Bible is their God’s word and therefore should be treated with a degree of reverence.
Any change in the arrangements requires an Act of the Oireachtas. If there was a demand for the use of other sacred texts as alternatives to the Bible, I am sure it would be a simple, albeit expensive and cumbersome, matter to address. The fact remains that oath taking is only there as a last resort should the voter arrive without the prescribed identification or where personation agents demand it. I suspect it is an extremely rare event. – Yours, etc,