Observing elections to improve democracy
A team of 25 international election observers have attended over 275 polling stations across Ireland in today’s referendum. The team was made up of observers from the UK, Canada, the United States, France and Greece. They worked in teams of two being accredited by the national returning officer, Barry Ryan.
Polling was observed to be brisk throughout the day and observers have seen the process of voting in Ireland in polling stations.
The team especially looked for aspects of the process which challenge the ease of access for voters including the simplicity of the process to be issued with a ballot paper to the security of the secret vote and the right of voters to cast their vote independently.
Initially the surveys that observers have completed, following their observations, suggest the following issues should be areas of interest to Ireland’s election authorities. Our observers reported that:
Staff were very welcoming across the country and our observers reported that polling was friendly and welcoming. However, in some cases, primarily because observers are not anticipated there were some issues of the acceptance of accreditation at polling stations in some constituencies.
The Head of the Mission was the Director of Democracy Volunteers, Dr John Ault and the Deputy Head of Mission was Karen Reinhardt, Executive Director of SDAI-AIDD.
Commenting on the voting process, John Ault said, ‘whilst the voting processes in Ireland are extremely robust and well-established we feel it is important to share best practice to improve elections where we observe. We are especially keen to encourage the Irish authorities to assess whether it would be possible to signpost polling stations more effectively and make it simpler for voters to be processed through the polling stations.’
Karen Reinhardt, Deputy Head of the mission added, ‘There was a notable amount of “family voting” which should be noted by Ireland’s electoral bodies. All the polling station locations we visited had multiple stations within them, as many as twelve in one case. This did lead to some confusion for some voters on their arrival at polling stations.’
 This can especially affect first time voters or those new to an area who might not be familiar with local polling arrangements.
 This was often because polling stations have multiple ballot boxes (in one case 12) which led to some confusion about the process of receiving a ballot paper.
 This figure is the percentage of the polling stations this was seen 22% of polling stations. This was seen infrequently as turnout was relatively high but this did mean that 3.1% of voters observed were either involved, in or affected by, family voting. This can limit voters’ right to a secret ballot as it generally involves two voters, usually partners, sharing a polling booth.
 We will make suggestions on how to ameliorate this in the final report when it is published.