Extending voting rights
A chara, – In order to extend the right to vote to Irish people living outside the State for presidential elections, there will have be a system for votes to be sent out, collected and counted. This could be done electronically, but given Ireland’s experience with e-voting machines and current concerns about how democratic processes are under threat from malware or hacking, it is almost certain that we would adopt a form of postal voting.
However, currently, we have one of the most restrictive systems of postal voting in the democratic world, for citizens who are resident here.
Postal votes are available for diplomats posted abroad, members of the Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces, those with certain illnesses, those not at home in certain circumstances for reasons of work or of study, or for prisoners.
If you happen to be away from your home polling station for family reasons or because of a holiday booked months previously, then you cannot vote if you physically cannot make it to the ballot box.
While we saw many young people come “home to vote” during the marriage equality and abortion referendums, those journeys cost and time and money to exercise a valuable democratic right.
Every election, candidates will tell you about the “certain votes” that they would have had from people who always exercise their franchise, but on polling day happened to be out of the country. Turnout figures are thus lower than they could have been if those travellers had been facilitated in casting their ballots.
It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that there were tens of thousands Irish citizens out of the country on the Friday in late May when the local and European elections took place. In addition, there are likely to be many others travelling in Ireland and, while they would vote, getting to the polling place may prove too awkward (weddings on a Friday in late May away from home, for example!).
We should be seeking to encourage voter turnout and making it as easy as possible for a citizen to cast their ballot.
We must take security measures and we must do everything to stop voter fraud. But we can extend the postal voting system so that any citizen who wants to exercise their franchise can apply for a postal ballot and use it.
Before we consider extending the right to vote to our diaspora (a move I support), shouldn’t we be looking at making it easier for our own citizens to be able to cast their ballots first? – Is mise,
Wexford County Council,