Voting in a referendum

Introduction

To vote in a referendum, you must be an Irish citizen; you must be at least 18 years old and you must be registered to vote.

In general, you vote at a polling station near your home address, but there are some exceptions – for example, you may qualify to be on the Postal Voters list or the Special Voters List.

Rules

The same constituencies that are used for a Dáil election are generally used for a referendum. In each constituency, there is a local returning officer, who is responsible for the detailed polling arrangements and for reporting results to the referendum returning officer.

Most people vote in person at their local polling station, which is usually in a school, community centre or other public building. If you have a disability that means that you cannot use your local polling station, you may apply to vote in another polling station that is accessible for you. (There are special arrangements for people who are on the Postal Voters list or the Special Voters List – see below.)

The polling station must be open for voting for at least 12 hours between 7 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. The exact period for each referendum is set out in the Order that appoints the polling day. For the referendum on 25 May 2018, the polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m.

A polling card will be sent to your address before the referendum date. This card includes your elector number and the name of the polling station where you are to vote. It will also include a formal statement explaining what the referendum is about.

When a Referendum Commission is in place, it posts information packs to all eligible voters as well as publicising the referendum in other ways.

Voting at a polling station

On the day of the referendum, you should go to the polling station named on your polling card. Information about the referendum will be available at the polling station. You will need to show a valid form of personal identification when you ask for a ballot paper. Valid forms of ID include your passport, your driving licence, student card with photo etc. Your polling card is not a valid form of identification. The valid forms of ID are listed on referendum.ie.

Voting is by secret ballot. The form and content of the referendum ballot paper are set out in the Referendum Act 1994. The ballot paper contains short instructions on how to vote and details of the referendum proposal. It asks whether you approve of the proposal. You should mark "X" in either the "yes" or the "no" box on the paper, then show the back of the ballot paper to the polling officials, fold it and place it in a sealed ballot box.

Prohibition on political activity at polling stations

Voters should know that political activity is strictly prohibited at polling stations on polling day. You cannot display or distribute campaign materials, or canvass in any form.

The prohibition also applies in the grounds of the polling station and within 50 metres of the entrance. It is in effect while polling is open and for half an hour before and afterwards, meaning from 6.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. on Friday 25 May 2018.

Voters with disabilities

If you are voting at a polling station, you may be helped to vote in one of 3 ways – by companion voting, by assistance from the presiding officer or by using a tactile ballot paper template – which is available to allow voters with visual impairments to mark their ballot papers at a referendum.

Alternatively, you may qualify to vote by post or as special voter – see below.

Read more about facilities for voters with disabilities.

Voting by post

If you are registered as a Postal Voter, you will be sent the following documents shortly before polling day: a ballot paper, a receipt for the ballot paper, an envelope for the marked ballot paper and a larger envelope addressed to the returning officer.

You must arrange to have your declaration of identity witnessed by a Garda before marking the ballot paper.

When you have marked the ballot paper, put it into the envelope marked "Ballot Paper Envelope" and seal it. You then put this envelope and the completed receipt for the ballot paper into the large envelope addressed to the returning officer, seal it and post it. The ballot paper must be posted – it cannot be handed to the returning officer.

Voting at hospitals and nursing homes

If you are living in a hospital, nursing home or similar institution and you have a physical disability or illness that prevents you from going to the polling station, you can vote at the hospital or nursing home if you are on the Special Voters List.

Shortly before polling day, you will be notified of the day and approximate time when a special presiding officer will call to you at the hospital or nursing home to allow you to vote. This official will show you evidence of their identity and an appointment warrant when they arrive. They will be accompanied by a Garda, whose role is to guard the ballot papers (in the same way as in a polling station) and to act as an independent witness to guarantee that the voting procedure is carried out properly.

Only the presiding officer and the Garda can be present when you cast your vote. The presiding officer will give you a declaration of identity, which they will witness for you. You then mark the ballot paper in secret, place it in the special envelope provided, close the envelope and present it to the presiding officer.

If you need help with voting, the special presiding officer will provide it in the same way as at a polling station.

Further information

There is more information about referendums in general on referendum.ie, in the booklet The Referendum in Ireland (pdf) and on refcom.ie. The Referendum Commission’s information about the May 2018 referendum is at refcom2018.ie.

Page edited: 25 May 2018