Facilities for voters with disabilities

Introduction

There are several arrangements in place to assist people with certain disabilities to exercise their voting rights. You can:

  • Vote at an alternative polling station if the local station is inaccessible
  • Be helped to vote at the polling station by a companion or the presiding officer
  • Vote in a referendum using a ballot paper template if you have a visual impairment
  • Vote by post
  • Vote at a hospital, nursing home or similar institution if you live there.

At least one of these facilities is available to you if you have a physical illness or disability, a visual impairment or a reading or writing disability.

The ballot paper template for people with a visual impairment (for referendums only) was introduced following a High Court ruling in 2017. In future, further provision may be made to facilitate people with visual impairments to vote by secret ballot in elections.

Rules

Accessibility at polling stations

Whenever possible, polling stations are situated in buildings that are accessible to people with disabilities. Polling stations must always be at ground floor level. Temporary ramps can be installed to facilitate access.

Voting compartments in polling stations are usually designed to accommodate voters who are standing up, so they may not be suitable for older people or people with disabilities. The returning officer (the person responsible for the conduct of the election or referendum in your constituency) must make a table and chair available for electors who find it more convenient to sit down.

Voting at an alternative polling station

If you have difficulty gaining access to your local polling station, you can apply in writing to the returning officer at least a week before polling day for permission to vote at another polling station in the same constituency. The returning officer will give public notice of all the polling stations in constituency that are not accessible to wheelchair users. In Dublin and Cork, the returning officer is the city or county sheriff. In other counties, it is the county registrar.

If you apply for permission to vote at another polling station, you should explain why you cannot access your local station. This will help the returning officer select a suitable alternative station. If possible, you should suggest a polling station that is both accessible and convenient for you. The returning officer will send you written authorisation to vote at another polling station, usually the one that you have suggested. You should present this authorisation (along with the usual evidence of identity) when you go to vote. (See our document on voting procedures for a list of acceptable proofs of identity.) Once you have been assigned another polling station, you cannot vote at your local station.

Assistance with voting at a polling station

The presiding officer is responsible for taking the poll at a polling station. A supervising presiding officer can also be on duty – their responsibilities include supervising the arrangements for voters with disabilities. You can ask to see the supervising presiding officer if you need assistance.

There are strict rules to ensure that voting is properly carried out and that the secrecy and security of the ballot are maintained. For example, under no circumstances may a ballot paper be taken out of a polling station during the poll and assisted voting is only allowed in limited circumstances.

The law is specific about the types of electors who can be helped to vote; how they may be helped; and who may help them. The presiding officer is obliged to apply the law, which is intended to ensure that you can vote and that your vote is kept secret.

Depending on the nature of your disability, you may be helped to vote in three ways – by companion voting, by assistance from the presiding officer or by using a ballot paper template (only in a referendum).

Companion voting

If you have a visual impairment or physical disability that prevents you from voting without assistance, a companion can mark the ballot paper for you. A companion must be at least 16 years old. An election candidate cannot act as a companion and neither can a candidate’s agent. A companion may not help more than two electors at an election. The presiding officer must be satisfied that the companion fulfils these conditions – otherwise they will not allow a companion to assist you. If the person you choose is not eligible to act as a companion, another person can act as companion or you can ask the presiding officer to assist you.

Procedure: When a companion is assisting you, they go to a voting compartment with you and mark the ballot paper in accordance with your wishes. The companion then places the marked ballot paper in the ballot box.

Assistance from the presiding officer

The presiding officer can assist you if you have a reading or writing disability that prevents you from voting without help or if you have a visual impairment or physical disability but do not want a companion to assist you.

Procedure: The presiding officer and the personation agents go with you to a part of the polling station where a conversation in normal tones cannot be overheard. (A personation agent is a representative of a political party or other approved body, who supervises the polling and helps prevent electoral offences.)

If necessary, the presiding officer will suspend entry to the polling station and have it cleared, to ensure that nobody else can overhear how you vote. The presence of the personation agents ensures and confirms that the presiding officer follows your instructions. It is a protection for you and for the presiding officer. As with everyone else involved in a poll, there is a statutory obligation on personation agents to maintain the secrecy of the ballot.

In an election poll, the presiding officer asks which candidates you wish to vote for and marks the ballot paper according to your instructions. If necessary, they read out the details on the ballot paper in relation to each candidate and ask which candidate you wish to have your first preference vote. They repeat the procedure for your second preference vote, and so on. When the ballot paper has been marked according to your instructions, the presiding officer puts it in the ballot box.

In a referendum poll, the presiding officer reads out the referendum proposal that is printed on the ballot paper. If necessary, they read out the full details of the proposal. They ask which option you wish to vote for and mark the ballot paper according to your instructions. They then put the ballot paper in the ballot box.

The law specifically forbids a presiding officer from acting on any written instructions received from a voter. This is because written instructions may not represent a voter's real wishes - someone else may have written them.

If you want the presiding officer to assist you in voting, you should go to the polling station as early as possible, and well before it closes at night. It can take some time to assist an elector, so the law allows a presiding officer to refuse a request for assistance during the last two hours of voting (the busiest time) if helping one elector would delay or obstruct others. This restriction does not apply to companion voting - you can be helped to vote by a companion at any time during polling hours.

Using a ballot paper template (referendum only)

The Electoral Regulations 2016 provide for a ballot paper template, which allows visually impaired people to vote independently in a referendum. This option is available if you don't want to be assisted by a companion or presiding officer in marking your ballot paper in a referendum. (There is currently no template for use in an election.)

Ballot paper templates will be available at each polling station. If you tell the presiding officer that you wish to use a template, you will be handed a ballot paper with the template attached to it and given whatever practical assistance you need in order to vote in secret.

The template uses raised print and Braille, whichever is most convenient for you, to identify the openings in the template that match the squares on the ballot paper. You then mark your choice of either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, on the ballot paper beneath the template. When you have marked the ballot paper, you can detach it from the template, fold it and place it in the ballot box in the usual way.

Read more in these FAQs.

Voting by post

If you live at home and you have a physical disability or illness that prevents you from going to a polling station, you may qualify to vote by post. You must apply to your local authority to be included in the Postal Voters List, which is drawn up each year as part of the Register of Electors - see our document on registering to vote.

You must apply by 25 November each year to be entered on the Postal Voters List. If you have not applied by this date, you can apply at any time to be entered on the supplement to this list. See 'Supplements to the Postal and Special Voters Lists' below for the latest application dates.

If you are on the current year's Postal Voters List, you will generally get an application form in the post. If not, you can download one from checktheregister.ie. Forms are also available from all local authorities, post offices and public libraries.

The application form includes provision for a medical certificate, which is usually only needed for your first application. Check with your local authority.

Procedure: Shortly before polling day, you will be sent the following documents: 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.

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. You must apply to your local authority to be included in the Special Voters List, which is drawn up each year as part of the Register of Electors - see our document on registering to vote.

You must apply by 25 November each year to be entered on the Special Voters List. If you have not applied by this date, you can apply at any time to be entered on the supplement to this list. See 'Supplements to the Postal and Special Voters Lists' below for the latest application dates.

If you are on the current year's Special Voters List, you will generally get an application form in the post. If not, you can download one from checktheregister.ie. Forms are also available from all local authorities, post offices and public libraries.

The application form includes provision for a medical certificate, which is usually only needed for your first application. Check with your local authority.

Procedure: 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.

Supplements to the Postal and Special Voters Lists

Electors with a physical illness or disability who are eligible for, but not included in, the postal or special voters list can apply to be included in the relevant supplement to these lists, which are published before each election and referendum.

The latest date for receipt of supplement applications by registration authorities is:

  • 2 days after the date of dissolution of the Dáil in the case of a general election
  • 2 days after the date of the order appointing polling day in the case of a Dáil by-election
  • 22 days (excluding Sundays and public holidays) before polling day for other elections or referenda - for the presidential election on Friday 26 October 2018, this is Monday 1 October 2018

Application forms are available from checktheregister.ie or from your local authority.

Further information

Franchise Section

Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
Custom House
Dublin 1
D01 W6X0
Ireland

Tel:(01) 888 2000
Locall:1890 20 20 21
Homepage: http://www.housing.gov.ie/local-government/voting/voting
Email: qcsofficer@housing.gov.ie

Page edited: 30 August 2018