Voting in a European election

Key information

This document outlines the voting procedures for the European elections in Ireland.

The system used for elections in Ireland is proportional representation with single transferable vote.

Ireland is divided into 3 constituencies for European elections: Dublin, South and Midlands-North-West. The constituencies are set out in the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Act 2014.

If you are an Irish citizen living in another Member State, you are entitled to vote in the European elections in that country only. You are not entitled to vote in more than one constituency or country. This means that you cannot vote abroad and in Ireland in the same election.

The person responsible for conducting the election on polling day in each of the constituencies is called a returning officer.

The returning officer for each of the 3 constituencies in Ireland is nominated by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and must be a City or County Sheriff or a County Registrar. They are responsible for organising the poll, printing the ballot papers and counting the votes in each constituency. The polling period must be at least 12 hours between 7.00 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. on polling day.

On 24 May 2019, polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm for voters in the local elections, the referendum and the European elections.

Who can vote in a European election?

To be eligible to vote in European elections in Ireland, you must:

  • Be a citizen of the European Union
  • Be 18 years of age on the day the Register of Electors comes into force (15 February)
  • Be listed in the Register of Electors.

You are not allowed to vote at the elections in more than one constituency.

If you are an EU citizen and you were not registered to vote in previous European elections in Ireland, you must apply for registration and complete a statutory declaration form (EP1) which is available from County, City and City and County Councils. The statutory declarations are sent to your home Member State to prevent double voting.

You can find more information about registering to vote and how to check if you are registered to vote in Ireland.

If you are an Irish citizen living in another Member State, you are entitled to vote in the European election in that country.

How do I vote in European elections?

Most people vote in person at their local polling station. In some circumstances you can vote by postal vote. Read more about postal voting.

If you live in a hospital, nursing home or similar institution and wish to vote there, you may qualify to be on a Special Voters List. Read more about voting facilities for voters with disabilities.

Voting in person takes place at polling stations. These are usually schools or other public buildings. If you are on the Register of Electors, a polling card will be sent to your home before the date of the European election. Your polling card will include your elector number and will tell you where you can vote.

When you arrive at the polling station, you will be asked to state your name and address and you may be asked to prove your identity. If you are asked to prove your identity and you cannot do so, you may not be allowed to vote. If the presiding officer is satisfied in relation to your identity, your ballot paper will be stamped and handed to you.

You will then go into a voting compartment. The names of the candidates in the election appear in alphabetical order on the ballot paper along with an indication of their political party, if any. A photograph of the candidate or a party emblem may also appear on the ballot paper.

You must indicate the order of your choice of candidates by writing "1" in the box beside the photograph of your first choice of candidate and, if you wish, "2" beside the photograph of your second choice of candidate, "3" beside the photograph of your third choice and so on.

When you vote this way, you are instructing the returning officer to transfer your vote to your second choice candidate if the first choice is either elected or eliminated. If your second choice candidate is either elected or eliminated, your vote will be transferred to your third choice and so on.

You must then fold your ballot paper to hide your vote and place it in the sealed ballot box. You may only vote once at the election.

How are the votes counted?

The ballot papers are sent to the count centre for each constituency. The candidate’s agents are allowed to supervise the count. Each ballot box is opened and the number of ballot papers in each box is checked against the return furnished by the presiding officer. Invalid papers are rejected.

The first step in the process is that the quota is worked out. The quota is the minimum number of votes necessary to guarantee the election of a candidate. It is calculated by dividing the total number of valid papers by one more than the number of seats to be filled and adding one to the result. For example, if there are 1,000 valid ballot papers and there are 4 seats in the constituency, the quota is 201 (1000 ÷ 4 +1 = 200 + 1 = 201).

The ballot papers are sorted according to the first preferences recorded for each candidate and counted. At the end of the first count, any candidate who has received the quota of votes or more than the quota of votes is deemed to be elected.

When a candidate receives more than the quota of votes, their surplus of votes is proportionally transferred to the remaining candidates.

If no candidate receives more than the quota of votes or if the surplus is not enough to elect one of the candidates, the candidate with the lowest amount of votes is eliminated. Their papers are then transferred to the remaining candidates according to the next preference shown on them.

If a ballot paper is to be transferred and the second preference shown on it is for a candidate already elected or eliminated, the vote passes on to third choice and so on.

If it gets to the point that the number of seats left to be filled is equal to the number of candidates still in the running, these candidates are declared elected without having reached the quota.

Counting continues until all the seats have been filled. The returning officer may recount all or any of the papers at any stage of a count. A candidate or their agent is allowed to ask for a recount of the papers.

How and when are the results of the European election announced?

When the count is completed, the returning officer declares the results of the election and returns the names of the elected members to the Chief Returning Officer for notification to the European Parliament. The result of a European election cannot be declared until voting throughout the European Union is completed.

How can the European election results be questioned?

If you want to question a European election result you must do it by a petition to the High Court. You must be registered or entitled to be registered as a European elector in a constituency and apply to the High Court within 14 days of the declaration of the election result. The Director of Public Prosecutions may also present a petition where they suspect that a European election was affected by the commission of electoral offences.

At the trial of an election petition, the High Court must determine the correct result of the election and may order the votes to be recounted. The Court may declare the whole or part of the election in the constituency void. In that event, a fresh election will be held to fill the vacant seats. The decision of the High Court is final, subject only to appeal on a question of law to the Supreme Court.

Page edited: 21 May 2019