1. The Joint Committee has made progress in the matters referred to it and has agreed to the following interim Report.
2. The Joint Committee has had before it a general scheme (with explanatory notes on each proposal therein) for an Electoral (Amendment) Bill, submitted by the Minister for Local Government, which was prefaced by the following statement:—
“The Minister for Local Government has stated in the Dáil and Seanad that the proposals in this general scheme do not necessarily represent the views of the Government. He wishes to stress that this remark applies particularly to Part III of the scheme. The purpose of that Part is simply to codify and make workable the existing provisions dealing with eligibility for membership of the Houses of the Oireachtas.”
3. (a) The scheme contains proposals relating to the registration of electors which the Joint Committee feels should, if possible, be enacted, subject to its recommendations, in time to be incorporated in the register of electors which will come into force on 15th April, 1961. The proposals mentioned in this paragraph, and also the Joint Committee’s recommendations thereon, are set out in the subsequent paragraphs of this Report under the following headings:—
(i)Repeal of prohibition on registration of police as Dáil electors (see paragraph 4 under),
(ii)Registration of members of the Garda Síochána as postal voters (see paragraphs 5 to 7 under),
(iii)Registration of members of the defence forces as electors (see paragraphs 8 to 11 under),
(iv)Order of names in postal voters’ list (see paragraph 12 under), and
(v)Calculation of elector’s age (see paragraph 13 under).
(b) The scheme also contains a proposal dealing with voting by blind and incapacitated electors. The Joint Committee is of opinion, subject also to its recommendation, that this proposal should be made the subject of early legislation. The proposal and recommendation is set out at paragraph 14 under.
I. REPEAL OF PROHIBITION ON REGISTRATION OF POLICE AS DÁIL ELECTORS.
Proposal: Repeal section 5 of the Electoral Act, 1923.
Note on Proposal
Section 5 provides that no member of any police force on full pay may be registered as a Dáil elector or vote at any Dáil election. The Minister has promised that the members of the Garda Síochána will be given the Dáil vote. The repeal of the section will achieve this object. The grant of the Dáil franchise will automatically confer the right to vote at Presidential elections and referenda. Gardaí already have the right to vote at local elections.
4. The Joint Committee recommends the acceptance of this proposal.
II. REGISTRATION OF MEMBERS OF THE GARDA SÍOCHÁNA AS POSTAL VOTERS.
Proposal: Provide that members of the Garda Síochána may be registered as postal voters for Dáil elections.
Note on Proposal
This Head provides that members of the Garda Síochána may be registered as postal voters for Dáil elections in the same way as members of the defence forces are registered. This provision is desirable in view of the duties of the Garda Síochána at election times.
5. The Joint Committee is aware of the dangers of extending too widely the facilities for postal voting which are more easily open to abuse than the provisions for voting in person. It considers, however, that the extension proposed is a necessary one which can be operated without undue risk in the same way as the scheme of postal voting by voters who are members of the defence forces.
The Joint Committee, accordingly, recommends the proposal, subject to the modification that members of the Garda Síochána should be registered as postal voters without the option of being registered to vote in person.
6. At local elections the returning officer can, under the Local Elections (Amendment) (No. 2) Order, 1955, authorise a member of the Garda Síochána, who is prevented by duties arising from the election from voting at the polling station allotted to him, to vote at another polling station in the same electoral area. There is no similar provision for a member of the Garda Síochána who is pre vented from voting by official duties other than those connected with an election. The extension of postal voting facilities to members of the Garda Síochána at Dáil elections affords a suitable way of enabling all Gardaí to vote in the same way, without inconvenience, at local elections.
Accordingly, the Joint Committee recommends that members of the Garda Síochána should be registered as postal voters at local elections also, without the option of being registered to vote in person.
7. Under these proposals, a member of the Garda Síochána would be registered to vote as a postal voter at both Dáil and local elections in the area in which he is ordinarily resident.
III. REGISTRATION OF MEMBERS OF THE DEFENCE FORCES AS ELECTORS.
Proposal: Repeal subsections (6) and (7) of section 1 and subsection (1) of section 21 of the Electoral Act, 1923, and section 302 of the Defence Act, 1954, and provide as follows:—
(1)Every wholetime member of the defences forces shall, if he so desires, be entered on the postal voters’ list for the constituency for which he is registered.
(2)A wholetime member of the defence forces shall be registered for the constituency in which he states that he would have been ordinarily resident but for his service.
(3)If a wholetime member of the defence forces living in any barracks or other building or place belonging to or provided by the State does not state the constituency in which he would have been ordinarily resident but for his service he shall be treated as ordinarily resident in such barracks, building or place.
(4) Define a wholetime member of the defence forces as—
(i)a member of the permanent defence force, or
(ii)an officer of the reserve defence forces employed continuously on military service or duty during a period during which a proclamation authorising the calling out of reservists on permanent service is in force or during a period during which reservists are called out on permanent service under section 88 of the Defence Act, 1954, or
(iii)a reservist called out on permanent service.
Note on Proposal
Subsections (6) and (7) of section 1 provide that a member of the defence forces on full pay living in barracks shall not be registered there but in the constituency in which, but for his service, he would be ordinarily resident on the qualifying date. Where a soldier has been serving for a number of years his links with his home constituency may become negligible, and where he has settled down in married quarters (where all the adult members of his family living with him are registered) it is quite unreal to insist on his registering in a “notional” constituency. The provision in this Head will allow him to register either in his home constituency or in the constituency in which his barracks is situate.
Paragraph (1) of this Head proposes the re-enactment of subsection (1) of section 21 which belongs with these other provisions regarding the registration of members of the defence forces as electors. Paragraph (4) is a restatement of the provisions of section 302 of the Defence Act, 1954.
8. The Joint Committee agrees with these proposals, subject to the deletion of the words “if he so desires” in sub-paragraph (1). The Joint Committee considers this amendment necessary to ensure that no member of the Defence Forces will be prevented from voting by absence, on duty or otherwise, from the area where he is registered. Under the Joint Committee’s proposals a member of the Defence Forces would have the choice of where he is to vote but he will have no alternative but to vote by post.
9. Members of the Defence Forces can vote in person at local elections. They cannot vote by post.
The Joint Committee recommends that the provisions as to the registration of members of the Defence Forces as postal voters, which they propose for Dáil elections, should apply also for local elections.
10. Under these proposals members of the Defence Forces and of the Garda Síochána would be registered as postal voters at both Dáil and local elections.
The Joint Committee considers that it would be desirable to ensure that Garda voters are designated in the register by a different symbol from that at present used to designate postal voters who are members of the Defence Forces. These latter are distinguishable in the register by the letter “(a)”.
11. Under section 21 of the Electoral Act, 1923, the returning officer, at a Dáil election, is required to send a declaration of identity to each postal voter with that voter’s ballot paper. If the ballot paper is returned to the returning officer, accompanied by the completed declaration, before the close of the poll, it is counted with the other ballot papers.
The Joint Committee considers that this declaration of identity is of no practical value and should be abolished. The postal voter to whom the ballot paper is addressed should simply be required to sign a receipt for it.
IV. ORDER OF NAMES IN POSTAL VOTERS LIST.
Proposal: Provide that the names in the postal voters’ list shall be set out in such order as may be directed by the Minister, and amend rule 16 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 1923, accordingly.
Note on Proposal
Under Rule 16, the names in the postal voters’ list are required to be arranged in the same order as in the register. The Army authorities require a postal voters’ list in which the names are set out alphabetically, as this enables the voting papers to be transmitted expeditiously. It is proposed that the Minister should have power to direct the order in which the names on the postal voters’ list shall be set out.
12. The Joint Committee agrees with this proposal.
V. CALCULATION OF ELECTOR’S AGE.
Proposal: Provide that for the purpose of preparing the register of electors a person’s age shall be taken to be the age that that person will attain on the 15th April following the qualifying date (15th September) and provide further that the qualifying period for the purpose of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, shall be a period of six months ending on the qualifying date.
Note on Proposal
The purpose of this Head is to secure that an elector’s age will be calculated by reference to the date on which the register of electors normally comes into force (15th April) rather than the qualifying date (15th September), which at present is seven months earlier.
As regards Dáil electors, Article 16.1.2° of the Constitution provides that, subject to certain qualifications, every citizen who has reached the age of 21 years shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann. Section 7 of the Electoral Act, 1923 (as inserted by section 3 of the Electoral (Dáil Éireann and Local Authorities) Act, 1945), provides that a person’s age shall be taken to be his age on 15th September, being the qualifying date. This means that a person who reached the age of 21 on, say, the 16th September, 1959, could not become a registered elector until 15th April, 1961, when he would be more than 22½ years of age.
Local government electors are in a somewhat similar position. The great majority of these are registered under section 2 of the Local Government (Extension of Franchise) Act, 1935, which conferred the local government franchise on citizens who were ordinarily resident in a local government electoral area and who, on the qualifying date, had attained the age of 21 years.
A smaller category of local government electors comprises persons of full age qualified under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, by virtue of occupation of premises for a “qualifying period” of six months. From 1924 to 1944 this qualifying period ended on 15th November which was the qualifying date for the registration of Dáil electors during those years. In 1945 the qualifying date for Dáil electors was changed to 15th September but a corresponding change was not made in the definition of the qualifying period for the 1918 Act electors. It is proposed to rectify this omission and at the same time to ensure that the age of an elector qualifying under the 1918 Act will be calculated in the same way as is proposed for the other categories of electors.
The proposal entails the repeal of section 3 of the Local Government Electors Registration Act, 1924, and section 3 of the Electoral (Dáil Éireann and Local Authorities) Act, 1945, as well as an amendment of section 2 of the Local Government (Extension of Franchise) Act. 1935.
13. The Joint Committee recognises that there may be some difficulty in implementing this proposal to the register which will come into force on 15th April, 1961. It considers, nevertheless, that the proposal is one which should be implemented in that register, if practicable, and that, if this is not practicable, that it should be implemented as soon as possible afterwards.
VI. VOTING BY BLIND AND INCAPACITATED ELECTORS.
(a)that where an elector at a Dáil election satisfies the presiding officer at a polling station that his sight is so impaired or he is otherwise so physically incapacitated that he is unable to vote without assistance, his ballot paper may be marked for him, if he so desires, by a companion as an alternative to voting in the manner prescribed in rule 24 of the Fifth Schedule to the Electoral Act, 1923;
(b) that no person may act as companion more than twice in any one election, and provide a penalty clause;
(c)that the presiding officer may administer to any person who proposes to vote with the assistance of a companion an oath to the effect that his sight is so impaired or he is so physically incapacitated that he is unable to vote without assistance.
Note on Proposal
This Head is intended to provide that an elector who satisfies the presiding officer that his sight is so impaired or that he is otherwise so physically incapacitated that he cannot vote without assistance may either:—
(a)avail himself of the present procedure by which the ballot paper is marked by the presiding officer in the presence of the agents of the candidates, or
(b)have his ballot paper marked by a companion (not necessarily a relative or a person entitled to vote at the election).
It is proposed to provide in addition that no person is to act as companion more than twice in the same election and that the presiding officer will be authorised, in any case of doubt, to require the person claiming to be blind or otherwise physically incapacitated to take an oath or affirmation to that effect before permitting him to have his paper marked by a companion.
14. The Joint Committee recommends acceptance of the proposal, subject to the restrictions:—
(i)that an agent of a candidate may require the presiding officer to challenge the voter or his companion and insist on an oath being taken;
(ii)that a companion may act for one person only;
(iii)that a companion may not be either a candidate or an agent of a candidate; and
(iv)that a companion must complete a declaration of secrecy.
(Signed) A. A. HEALY,
17th August, 1960.