Facilities for voters with disabilities
There are a variety of arrangements in place to assist those with certain disabilities in Ireland 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.
Following a High Court ruling on 30 March 2017, further provision may be made to facilitate people with visual impairments to vote by secret ballot in elections and referendums.
Voting at an alternative polling station
Whenever possible, polling stations are situated in buildings that are accessible to people with disabilities. Polling stations must be situated on the ground floor in all cases. If it is necessary and feasible, temporary ramps are installed to facilitate access to polling stations.
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 is the person responsible for the conduct of the election in your constituency. He or she will give public notice of all the polling stations in his/her 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 to be authorised to vote at another polling station, you should explain why you cannot gain access to your local station. This will help the returning officer select a suitable alternative polling 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 enabling you to vote at another polling station in the same constituency, usually the station suggested by you. You should present this authorisation when you go to vote at that station and remember to bring the usual evidence of identity as well. Once you have been assigned to another station to vote, you cannot vote at your local station.
Access within polling stations
Voting compartments are usually designed to accommodate voters standing up to mark their ballot papers on ledges at average waist height. As a result, these compartments may not be suitable for older people and people with disabilities. Returning officers must make available at polling stations a table and chair at which electors can vote if they find that more convenient.
Assistance with voting
The responsibility for taking the poll at a polling station rests with the presiding officer, who is the person who asks for your name and address and looks at your polling information card when you arrive at the station. A supervising presiding officer can also be on duty. His/her responsibilities include keeping an eye on the arrangements for voters with disabilities. Any of the staff on duty will call the supervising presiding officer if you request it.
Voting is a fundamental democratic activity and there are strict rules in place 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 and how and by whom they may be helped. 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 assisted to vote in two ways.
If you have a visual impairment or physical disability that prevents you from voting without assistance, you can have the ballot paper marked for you by a companion. To act as a companion, a person must be at least 16 years old, must be neither a candidate nor an agent of a candidate and may not help more than two electors at an election. The presiding officer must not allow a companion to assist an elector unless he/she is satisfied that the companion fulfils these conditions. If a person is not eligible to act as a companion, you can have another person act as companion or you can ask to be assisted by the presiding officer.
The procedure for voting by a companion is simple. The companion goes with you to a voting compartment and marks the ballot paper in accordance with your wishes. The companion then places the marked ballot paper in the ballot box.
You can be assisted by the presiding officer 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 wish to be assisted by a companion.
Under this 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. If necessary, the presiding officer will suspend entry to the polling station and have the station cleared to ensure that no other person can overhear how you vote. The presence of the personation agents ensures and confirms that the presiding officer complies with your instructions. It is a protection for you and for the presiding officer. As with all other people involved in a poll, there is a statutory obligation on personation agents to maintain the secrecy of the ballot.
The presiding officer will ask which candidates you wish to vote for and will mark the ballot paper in accordance with your instructions. If necessary, the presiding officer will read out the particulars on the ballot paper in relation to each candidate and ask which candidate you wish to give your first preference vote. He/she will repeat the procedure for your second preference vote and so on. When the ballot paper has been marked in accordance with your instructions, the presiding officer will put it in the ballot box.
The law specifically forbids a presiding officer from acting on any written instructions received from a voter. The reason for this is that the written instructions may not represent the voter's real wishes - someone else may have written them.
If you want to be assisted in voting by the presiding officer, you should, if possible, go to the polling station well before it closes at night. Assisting an elector can take time and the law, therefore, allows a presiding officer to refuse a request for assistance during the last two hours of voting (i.e., the busiest time) if helping one elector would delay or obstruct others. Presiding officers are reluctant to use this power and sensible co-operation from you should make its use unnecessary. This restriction does not apply to companion voting, i.e., you can be helped to vote by a companion at any time during polling hours.
Using a ballot paper template
In October 2016, Regulations were introduced providing 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. You can ask that the ballot paper be inserted into or attached to a template which will allow you to identify the squares on the ballot paper where you mark your vote.
Voting by post
If you have a physical disability or illness that prevents you from going to the polling station and you live at home, you may qualify to vote by post. You must apply to be included in the postal voters list, which is drawn up each year as part of the register of electors. You must apply by 25 November each year in order to be entered on the postal voters list.
You can apply to your county council or city corporation in order to be entered on the postal voters list. Application forms can be obtained by phoning the county council or city corporation and are also available in post offices, local authority offices, public libraries and Garda stations. An application form is usually sent by post to each person on the current year's postal voters list. If you are not sent an application form, contact your local authority. The application form includes provision for a medical certificate, which is usually required in the case of a first application only, check with your local authority.
At an election or referendum, you will be sent a set of voting documents comprising a ballot paper, a receipt for the ballot paper, an envelope in which to put the marked ballot paper and a larger envelope for sending back the voting documents to the returning officer. When you have marked the ballot paper, you should put it into the envelope marked "Ballot Paper Envelope" and seal it. You should then put this envelope together with the completed receipt for the ballot paper into the large envelope addressed to the returning officer, seal it and post it at once. The ballot paper must be posted and cannot be handed to the returning officer.
Voting at hospitals and nursing homes
If you live in a hospital, nursing home or at home and have a physical disability or illness that prevents you from going to the polling station, you can vote at the hospital/nursing home, etc., if you apply to be included in the special voters list, which is drawn up each year as part of the register of electors.
You can apply to be included on the special voters list to your county council or city corporation by 25 November each year in order to be entered on the special voters list. Application forms can be obtained by phoning the county council or city corporation and are also available in post offices, local authority offices, public libraries and Garda stations. An application form is usually sent by post to each person on the current year's special voters list. The application form includes provision for a medical certificate, which is usually required in the case of a first application only.
At an election or referendum, you will be notified of the day and approximate time when a special presiding officer will call to you at the hospital/nursing home, etc., to allow you to vote. The special presiding officer will carry evidence of his or her identity and an appointment warrant, which he/she will present to you for inspection on arrival. The special presiding officer 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 he or she 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, it will be provided by the special presiding officer 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 bye-election
- 22 days (excluding Sundays and public holidays) before polling day for other elections or referenda
Application forms are available from your local authority.
Where to apply
Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
Tel:(01) 888 2000
Locall:1890 20 20 21