Democracy Volunteers deployed 32 observers across Northern Ireland on 5th May 2022. These observers formed teams of two and attended 436 of the 1345 polling places (32.4%). Observers spent between 30 minutes and 60 minutes at each polling venue observing the process and then completed one or more surveys for each polling venue, dependant on the number of polling stations.
Our teams identified extremely high levels of attempted family voting which was infrequently challenged or prevented by the polling staff.
Those subjected to family voting (i.e. not having a secret ballot) were invariably women (65%) and those causing family voting were often men (52%). We observed family voting in 42% of polling stations (279 individual cases of family voting).
We believe that some of this family voting may be caused by several factors around the length of time voters stay in a polling booth (as they don’t simply have to mark an ‘X’ under the STV voting system), but also because the ranking process and length of the ballot can lead to some lengthy deliberations, which can lead to familiar consultation.
We also believe that clearer definitions of a polling station’s curtilage would benefit parties, their representatives, and voters, and that staff are trained on understanding the role and rights of independent election observers.
Democracy Volunteers is a non-partisan, domestic election observation organisation, committed to improving the security and accessibility of elections in the UK and abroad. Our mission is to improve the quality of democratic elections, by advising those who legislate for, administer, and oversee elections, to enhance them for the benefit of voters.
We aim to do this by attending elections and empirically reporting our findings in an accessible way through statistical analysis and the undertaking of interlocutor meetings to support this objective. We do this through a strong methodology, based on the international standards for election observation as set out by OSCE/ODIHR and others. We are a member of the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM) and abide by GNDEM’s Declaration of Global Principles for Non-partisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organisations and the accompanying Code of Conduct .
We maintain strict impartiality and require our observers to abide by UK and international standards, as well as the relevant local legal framework, when acting as our observers. All of our observers, who observe in the UK, are officially accredited with the UK’s Electoral Commission and undergo a thorough interview and training process to ensure they are able to accurately and impartially record and report data from polling stations and counting venues. None of our observers are members of political parties and are not politically active.
We aim to report on our observations in a constructive and encouraging way to benefit the delivery of democracy and to benefit the electorate as a whole. Since we were formed in 2016, we have observed dozens of elections across the UK and internationally, including General Elections, referenda, by-elections, council elections and devolved parliamentary/assembly elections. Our reports have been used as the basis for trials of various methodologies and equipment at various elections and our data is regularly cited in The Houses of Parliament and used in debates nationally, as well as informing local council training for election officials, whilst informing the public on the conduct of electoral events.
Democracy Volunteers observers deployed for the observations during the Northern Ireland Assembly elections received the support of a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd as well as some small donations from those observing. This was arranged by Democracy Volunteers, and this funding covered travel expenses, some accommodation, and subsistence for our volunteer observers.