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Virus pushes case for postal votes, says barrister
Tomás Keys

24 Nov 2020 / Ireland Print

Virus accelerates case for postal votes, says barrister

Barrister Tomás Keys has written that a permanent electoral commission should be established by the Oireachtas, given that votes may need to take place in this jurisdiction before an effective COVID-19 vaccination is introduced. 

Keys writes that the text of the forthcoming Electoral (Civil Society Freedom) (Amendment) Bill 2020 has not yet been published but the proposal provides for the following:

  • An independent Electoral Commission,
  • The modernisation of the registration of electors,
  • Regulation of online political advertising,
  • Guidance on votes under COVID-19 restrictions.

A 2008 UCD report suggested the transfer of the functions of both the temporary constituency commission, and referendum commission, into a permanent electoral commission. 

Reasons

Historically, there has been only limited use of postal ballots in Ireland, Tomás Keys points out, though voters in England and Wales are entitled to request a postal ballot since 2001, without having to give specific reasons.

In the February 2020 general election, approximately 12,000 postal votes were cast countrywide in Ireland.

By contrast, in Maricopa County, Arizona, with a similar population to Ireland, 248,000 early postal ballots were cast in the recent US Presidential election.

Reactive

Tomás Keys writes that electoral law reform in Ireland has in the past been reactive, rather than pro-active.

A properly-resourced regulator in the shape of a permanent electoral commission with the power to enforce electoral law, is to be welcomed, he writes.

A commission could also focus on enhancements to the electoral process. 

He suggests that a report on whether to allow voters the choice of casting a postal vote, without having to give a reason, should be an early priority for any new electoral commission.

Ample time

Any such body would also have ample time to prepare and promote public awareness of important constitutional amendments.

Keys also points out that the desirability of a permanent electoral commission is identified in article II, section 3.1 of the report of the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission).

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