Swearing on a Bible to claim your vote on 25 February

I swear by Almighty God that I am the same person as the person whose name appears as _____ on the register of Dáil electors now in force for the constituency of _____ and that I have not already voted at this election and that I have reached the age of eighteen years.

What do you think you need to run a polling station? Tables, leaflets, ballot papers, pencils … oh, and if you’re a voter in the Irish general election at the end of February, look out for a Bible sitting in the corner of the polling station.

The Electoral Office Northern Ireland have pretty much stamped out claims of “vote early vote often”. While fraud is still detected, and court cases still pursued, irregularities mainly seem to centre around the issue of postal votes rather than impersonation in polling stations. Travelling around polling stations across West Belfast, East Belfast and Lagan Valley last May, the party agent desks at nearly all polling stations were empty.

The reason being that if you don’t have photographic identification that exactly matches one of the short list of approved ID, you don’t get a ballot paper. Period.

However, procedures are different in the rest of the island. Turning up without sufficient identification on the 25 February won’t seem to be a complete barrier to voting. The Irish Citizen’s Information website explains:

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.

Proving your identity might involve reaching into your pocket or bag and producing one of the following documents:

  • Passport
  • Driving licence
  • Employee photo id card
  • Student photo id card issued by an educational institution
  • Travel document containing name and photograph
  • Bank or Savings or Credit Union book containing your address in the constituency or electoral area
  • Cheque book and another document containing your address in the constituency
  • Cheque card and another document containing your address in the constituency
  • Credit card and another document containing your address in the constituency
  • Birth certificate and another document containing your address in the constituency
  • Marriage certificate and another document containing your address in the constituency

But failing to find any of those, you may still be able to verbally assert your identity, and if that’s still not enough and you are challenged, that’s where the Bible comes in. You can then swear an oath to confirm who you are. (Note that the arrangements cope with persons of no faith or other religious beliefs.)

The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government confirm that Bibles are used in polling stations in two circumstances: (i) affirming your identity; (ii) affirming that you need someone else to mark your ballot paper on your behalf. The procedure runs as follows:

(a) A Presiding Officer may, and must if required by a personation agent [a party/candidate representative] or a candidate, put to an elector when they apply for a ballot paper, but not afterwards, all or any of the questions and/or the oath or affirmation set out below. If the elector answers the questions satisfactorily or takes the oath or affirmation, they are given a ballot paper unless the presiding officer, at their own initiative or on request by a personation agent or candidate present, require the elector to produce evidence of identity.

One or more of the following questions is asked as the situation requires:

(1) Are you the same person as the person whose name appears as _____ on the register of Dáil electors now in force for the constituency of _____?

(2) Have you already voted at this election?

(3) Have you reached the age of eighteen years?

Any one or more of these questions may be asked as the situation requires. If the elector answers “Yes” to the first and third questions and “No” to the second question, the ballot paper is stamped with the official mark and given to the elector unless, before doing so, the presiding officer wishes, or is required by an agent or a candidate, to administer the oath or (as appropriate) affirmation or to require the elector to produce evidence of identity. If the elector refuses to answer the questions which are put to him or her, or does not answer “Yes” or “No” as outlined above, they are not given a ballot paper.

The prescribed oath or affirmation is as follows:

“I swear by Almighty God [or … do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm as the case may be] that I am the same person as the person whose name appears as _____ on the register of Dáil electors now in force for the constituency of _____ and that I have not already voted at this election and that I have reached the age of eighteen years.”

Ordinarily the elector must take the oath: the affirmation may be made only by an elector who objects to taking an oath on the grounds that they have no religious belief or that the taking of an oath is contrary to their religious belief.

If the elector refuses to take the oath or make the affirmation, they are not given a ballot paper. If the elector takes the oath or makes the affirmation they are given a ballot paper, unless evidence of identity is requested.

(b) Also, if an elector satisfies the Presiding Office that their sight is so impaired, or that they are so physically incapacitated or that they are unable to read or write to such an extent that they are unable to vote without assistance, the elector may have his or her ballot paper marked either by a companion or by the Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer may, and must if requested by a personation agent or candidate, satisfy themselves as to an elector’s inability to vote without assistance by administering to him or her the following oath or affirmation:

“I swear by Almighty God [ or … do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm as the case may be] that my sight is so impaired [ or … that I am so physically incapacitated as the case may be … or … that I am unable to read or write to such an extent as the case may be] that I am unable to vote without assistance.”

If the elector refuses to take the oath or make the affirmation the ballot paper may not be marked for him or her. Ordinarily, the elector must take the oath; the affirmation may be made only by an elector who objects to taking an oath on the grounds that they have no religious belief or that the taking of an oath is contrary to their religious belief.

Wonder what version of the Bible they use? Probably not the King James or the NIV, sometimes known as the “NI” Version …

  • Fair Deal

    “irregularities mainly seem to centre around the issue of postal votes rather than impersonation in polling stations.”

    Not entirely correct, the irregularity at polling stations is agents taking out information. However, it is one the EO are reluctant to do acknowledge or act upon.

  • Fair Deal – there were so few polling stations – even in West Belfast – with anyone marking the register that there would have been very little scope for agents taking out information. I do remember EONI putting in extra “agent observers” into some polling stations the previous year at the Euro elections, but it was deemed an ineffective use of resource given how little they observed.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Sweet Christ, what a country.

  • Brian

    Incredible

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    One of the great joys of voting over the past ten or so years has been the run-ins I have had with the Polling Officer. (my joy at voting in May 2010 was limited by the non attendance of my Nemisis).
    As with most feuds, the exact origin is a bit vague. But he challenged me over a document he ruled inadmissable and the RUC (as they were then) had to intervene. I had to go back to the house to search the house to find something that met the old jobsworths satisfaction.

    It was in fact only the second time Id been challenged …..the first being June 1970 when I was 18 and one month and the polling guy said “do you mind me asking how old you are? and I said “yes I do” and that was the end of that little episode.
    Whether the old jobsworth in our polling station was right or wrong, (Im still inclined to the latter) there should have been a little give and take. Certainly a copy of the Good Book or several Good Books or simple affirmation would have gone a long way to nipping our happy little fued in the bud.

    Sadly things are not as they used to be when I earned some extra pennies as a polling agent (third class). Fane Street School (was that the name)…….a kick the Pope band came into vote and nobody challenged anything but I quite admired the guy who was asked his name and his face went blank and he said “I forget”.
    Happy Days.

  • Dec

    Is this so different from being forced to evoke the name of a particular sky fairy on the bible before giving testimony in UK courts?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Well actually the nature of my job included occasional appearances in the witness box. A lot of people, including Christians affirm rather than evoke the name of God in the procedings ….

  • pippakin

    The thing is does it actually ever get used? It seems possible that it is just one of those regulations/laws that sit on the books forever because no one can be bothered to change them. The UK is full to the brim with such laws. Shouldn’t half of you be practising your archery on Sunday?

  • Fair Deal

    Alan

    Safe seats like West aren’t the issue.
    There is plenty of scope to get info out.
    There is no need for the cost of extra observers. Agents can be allowed top observe but that does not require pen and paper.