1. Observe the election process in the various Northern Ireland local elections.
  2. Advise election officials, legislators, the UK’s Electoral Commission as well as the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland on the results of the observation for the improvement of electoral practice.
  3. Support these election bodies with constructive feedback on areas of concern so that they may consider remedial action.


On May 18th, Democracy Volunteers deployed 22 observers, and support team, of the 376 Democracy Volunteers observers accredited with the UK’s Electoral Commission. The organisation deployed across all 11 councils holding elections in Northern Ireland. These observers generally formed teams of two (sometimes three) and attended 225 polling stations.

These observers spent between 30 and 45 minutes at each polling venue observing the process and then completed one survey for each polling station.

In general, teams attended between 10 and 15 polling stations in their day.

Family Voting’ was observed in 81 of the 225 polling stations. When compared with other elections our organisation has observed, this is a very similar percentage to 2022 in Northern Ireland but is substantially higher than the UK average. The OSCE/ODIHR, the international body that monitors elections in the UK, describes ‘family voting’ as an ‘unacceptable practice’[1]. It is a breach of the long-standing concept and practice of a secret ballot.  However, although many cases of Family Voting did occur, staff at most polling stations were generally not active in attempting to prevent it. At busy times, two polling staff were often unable to issue ballot papers and prevent Family Voting at the same time.

Democracy Volunteers now ranks the types of family voting that takes place by three types: ‘clear direction’, ‘collusion’ or ‘general oversight’. The largest category of Family Voting at these elections was ‘Clear Direction’. This is relatively unusual, based on our previous experiences of observing in the UK and abroad, as this is the most egregious forms of Family Voting, as it robs a voter of their independence when casting their vote. Collusion, the next worst breach of the secret ballot, made up nearly a third of all forms of family voting in the UK election observation.

Across the English local elections observed, the spread was:

  • Clear direction               42.3%
  • General Oversight          24.1%
  • Collusion                       29.2%
  • Other                            4.4%

In total, 7.1%, of all the 3,768 voters we observed voting at this election were either causing, or were affected by, Family Voting, some 269 people. Family Voting is widespread in the UK. Over 68% of those affected by Family Voting on 18th May were women.

[1] http://www.osce.org/ 

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