Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Vote observers find flaws in Irish elections

Michael D Higgins

They came to the Republic of Ireland to learn about improving their own elections, but a group of eastern European observers found flaws in the way voting was organised in the presidential election and referendums.

Some 45 observers from Belarus and Lithuania visited 226 polling stations as part of a mission to study the democratic process. The idea was to use the experience to help improve elections in the former Soviet state of Belarus.

But the team expressed some concern about the way Irish elections were handled -- especially in areas of privacy and secrecy. They claimed it was possible in most polling stations for individuals to see how other people were voting.

The group, from the project Election Observation: Theory and Practice, also said polling stations were not vigorous enough in checking voter identity, with some not asking for any form of ID. But they were sure these shortcomings in the process did not ultimately influence the election result.

Head of Mission Anastasiya Matchanka said: "The conditions for the full enjoyment of voting in secrecy at most of the polling stations visited by the mission were not provided.

"Voting booths were not constructed in a way as to provide the possibility for voting in private. For instance, most of the observed polling booths were not covered by a curtain or a shield and it was possible for other voters to see the content of the ballot and voters preferences."

Ms Matchanka said there were reports people were not being made to fold their vote paper as they put them into the ballot box. Observers also found that not all polling stations insisted voters provide photo ID before they cast their ballots.

Ms Matchanka said some voters were seen to object to using pencils provided by polling station officials to cast their vote, with the team noting pencil could be rubbed off or altered, thereby affecting the final result.

But she added: "Despite the mentioned deviations, the election process was conducted professionally and calmly, and in accordance with international and national standards."

A full report on the visit is expected to be prepared within two months.

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