Facilities for voters with disabilities

Introduction

There are arrangements in place for people with physical disabilities, illnesses, visual impairments, or reading and writing disabilities, to allow you to exercise your right to vote. You can:

  • Change the polling station where you vote
  • Have a companion or the presiding officer help you vote
  • Vote 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.

Polling station accessibility

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

Voting compartments in polling stations are usually designed for people who are standing up. The returning officer (the person responsible for organising the election or referendum in your constituency) must make a table and chair available for voters who need to sit down.

Voting at an alternative polling station

The returning officer will give public notice of all the polling stations in the constituency that are not accessible to wheelchair users. 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. In Dublin and Cork, the returning officer is the city or county sheriff. In other counties, it is the county registrar.

To help the returning officer pick a suitable alternative station you should explain in your application why you cannot access your local station. If possible, you should suggest another 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. Once you have been assigned another polling station, you cannot vote at your local station.

Casting your vote

Assistance with voting at a polling station

The presiding officer is the person who is responsible for taking the poll at a polling station. A supervising presiding officer may 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 the secrecy and security of the ballot are maintained. The law is specific about the types of voters who can be helped to vote; how they may be helped; and who may help them. The presiding officer has to apply the law, which is intended to make sure that you can vote the way you want to and that your vote is kept secret.

Depending on the nature of your disability, you may be helped to vote in three ways:

  • companion voting
  • assistance from the presiding officer
  • using a ballot paper template

Companion voting

If you have a visual impairment, a physical disability or a literacy difficulty that prevents you from voting without assistance, you can bring a companion with you to mark the ballot paper for you. This person must be at least 16 years old. They cannot be an election candidate or a candidate’s agent. They may not help more than two people vote per election. If the presiding officer does not believe that the person you choose is eligible to act as a companion, another person can act as your companion or you can ask the presiding officer to assist you.

When a companion is assisting you, they go into a voting compartment with you and you tell them how to mark the ballot. The companion then places the marked ballot paper in the ballot box.

Assistance from the presiding officer

If you have a visual impairment, a physical disability or a literacy difficulty that prevents you from voting without assistance, the presiding officer can help you mark the ballot paper.

The presiding officer and the personation agents go with you to a part of the polling station where a conversation at a normal volume cannot be overheard. (A personation agent is a representative of a candidate 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 can hear how you vote. The personation agents are there as witnesses to make sure that the presiding officer follows your instructions. As with everyone involved in a poll, there is a statutory obligation on personation agents to keep your vote secret.

The presiding officer asks how you want to vote and marks the ballot paper according to your preferences. They will read out any information from the ballot paper you may need to hear to make your decision. They then put the ballot paper in the ballot box.

The law forbids a presiding officer from acting on any written instructions received from a voter. This is because someone else may have written or changed the instructions and it would make it harder to be sure that your vote was being cast the way you want.

If you want the presiding officer to help you vote, you should go to the polling station well before it closes at night. The law allows a presiding officer to refuse a request for assistance during the last two hours of voting if helping one elector would prevent others from voting. 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

A ballot paper template is a transparent plastic device that is placed on top of a ballot paper. The template has raised print and braille on it, so that visually impaired people can vote without assistance. You can use this option if you have a visual impairment and don't want to be helped by a companion or presiding officer to mark your ballot paper.

The template is used with a Freephone number that identifies the candidates in your area. If you want to listen to this information before polling day, you can get the number from your local authority or Returning Officer. You can listen to the information before polling day to familiarise yourself with it and/or you can use your mobile phone to call the number while you are in the polling compartment.

Ballot paper templates are available at each polling station. If you tell the presiding officer that you want to use a template, you will be handed a ballot paper with the template attached to it.

Raised print and Braille are used to identify the openings in the template that match the squares on the ballot paper. You mark your choices on the ballot paper beneath the template. There is a flap over each opening, so that you can close the flap when you have marked a square. When you have finished marking the ballot paper, you can detach it from the template, fold it and place it in the ballot box in the usual way.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has information about using the template. There is more detail about the templates on ncbi.ie.

Applying to vote from home

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.

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.

You must apply by 25 November each year to be entered on the Postal or 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.

If you are on the current year's Postal or 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, Garda stations and public libraries. The application form includes provision for a medical certificate, which is usually only needed for your first application.

If you have not applied by 25 November you can apply to be added to the supplement to the list. The supplements to the postal and special voters lists are published before each election and referendum.

Applications to be included in the relevant supplement must be sent to your local authority. The local authority must receive your application by the following dates, at the latest:

  • For a general election, 2 days after the date of dissolution of the Dáil
  • For a Dáil by-election, 2 days after the date of the order appointing polling day
  • For other elections or for referendums, 22 days (excluding Sundays and public holidays) before polling day

You can read more about this in our document on registering to vote.

How to vote by post

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
  • 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 given directly to the returning officer

How to vote from a hospital or nursing home

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

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

Page edited: 23 November 2021