A chara, – I agree with Ian Headon (May 29th) that it is a concern that many voters did not take part in last Friday’s referendum.
However, I think it is probably inaccurate where he states that over a third of voters “declined” to participate.
Our electoral registers are not entirely accurate. With voters moving around, there are often instances of some voters being registered more than once and others being knocked off the register entirely. We need to put in place a system of automatic voter registration (possibly linked to our PPS numbers), something that is the norm in most European states. That may require a single electoral commission.
We also need to improve our system of allowing for postal voting. The Irish system is one of the most restrictive in democratic societies. Citizens can apply if they are away for reasons of work but have to do so several weeks ahead of the poll. But many voters were away on Friday because of holidays planned months in advance or for other reasons that required them to travel. In a world where more and more of our voters travel, but still want to vote, we should make it as easy as possible (while still ensuring against fraud) to cast a ballot.
If we are to look at extending the rights of the Irish overseas to vote in presidential elections, we need to look at how this could operate in practice, and this is likely to mean postal ballots.
Finally, the evidence from other countries suggests that if a citizen gets into the habit of voting early in life, they will continue to do so. Schools have been proactive in encouraging voter registration and the new politics and society course at second level engages teenagers. But extending the vote to 16 year olds will help form a voting habit. That can be done simply by legislation in time for the local elections next May.
We must value the power of the pencil and paper and how it can change a nation. We should do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for citizens to use their vote. – Is mise,
Cllr MALCOLM BYRNE,