Some of Ireland's voters casting their ballot in the marriage referendum today have been taken aback by the sight of a Bible in voting centres.
Be not afraid, said the Government. It’s not a subliminal message from the returning officer encouraging you to vote in a particular way.
The bible is used in cases where a voter does not have identification and instead swears an oath that they are who they say they are.
Readers who contacted independent.ie said they felt placing bibles on desks where ballot papers were collected was inappropriate, particularly given the subject matter.
”They don’t need it on display, it’s a dinosaur policy”, one said. “Every table had a bible on it. I complained to the Garda outside”.
The provision is contained in Section 111 of the Electoral Act 1992. It says that anyone whose name is on the register of electors is entitled to vote, but that the returning or presiding officer who oversees the ballot is entitled to ask for proof of identity before – but not after – a ballot paper is handed over.
The voter concerned can also be asked if they are the person whose name appears on the register of electors; if they have already voted and if they have reached the age of 18. If the voter does not answer ‘yes’ to the first and third, and ‘no’ to the second, they are not permitted to vote.
They can also be asked to swear an oath to that effect, using the aforementioned bible for those of a religious persuasion, or make a declaration.
The oath reads: “I swear by Almighty God (or, ‘I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm) that I am the same person as the person whose name appears as AB (given name) on the register of electors now in force for the constituency of…..and that I have not already voted at this election, and that had attained the age of 18 years on…..”.
If a person refuses to take the oath or make the affirmation they are not permitted to vote.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, which oversees elections and referendums, said bibles were “rarely used” but were part of a returning officer's equipment.
Interestingly, a so-called ‘personation agent’ appointed by a member of the Seanad or Dail member for the constituency concerned, can also ask that proof of identity be provided.