A team of 12 international election observers attended over 175 polling stations across Ireland in the May 25th referendum. The team was made up of observers from the UK, the Republic of Ireland and France. They worked in teams of two being accredited by the national returning officer, Barry Ryan as well as being given approval to observe by local returning officers.

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.

Democracy Volunteers deployed teams across the following constituencies: Galway East, Galway West, Cork North Central, Cork South Central, Dublin Fingal, Dublin Mid-West, Dublin South-West, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin Central, Dublin South Central and Dublin Bay South.


This was a very well-run referendum. Access to voting was clear and officials dealt well with the process.  Nationally authorities were very welcoming and helpful to the observer group and made the process of introduction and accreditation clear and simple. We would especially like to thank staff at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for their assistance and guidance. We would also like to thank individual returning officers for their help in agreeing to our attendance in their constituencies.

As with several recent elections that Democracy Volunteers have observed we continue to be concerned about the levels of ‘family voting’ at polling stations.

Our observer team saw ‘family voting’ in 32% of the polling stations attended which, bearing in mind the team records all the voters who attend polling stations, means that 7% of all the voters who attended polling stations were involved in this practice.

We would recommend that officers, and the presiding officers, take time to be aware of this and intercede when they see this. Evidence, as provided by the OSCE/ODIHR, suggests that this practice most affects women voters as the secrecy of their ballot is restricted.


  1. Returning Officers should make their polling staff aware that observers may be present in the constituency. (This should be simple in Ireland as returning officers are those who grant accreditation to observers and are given advanced knowledge of their presence).
  2. Returning Officers should assess the signposting of polling stations more carefully.
  3. Returning Officers should alert polling staff that ‘family voting’ should be monitored and staff should be encouraged to prevent this when they observe it taking place.
  4. Some polling stations have a large number of ballot boxes. Logistically it may not be possible to have more public buildings available for polling day, however it can lead to confusion amongst voters as to which desk to report to and consequently which ballot box to place their vote in. As such, we recommend that clearer delineation be made between the different ‘polling stations’ within one building and/or room. This could also be improved by combining ballot boxes to have larger electorates.

Ireland Abortion Referendum 2018 Final Report


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