Saturday polls would benefit the country financially, educationally and democratically

Fine Gael TD for Dublin North, Alan Farrell, has proposed a Bill to provide for the holding of elections and referenda on Saturdays or Sundays, stating that holding elections and referenda at weekends will benefit the country financially, educationally and democratically.

“Currently, election and referenda and the resulting counts take place on weekdays which results in a number of problems such as the interruption of our children’s education and the inability of people to return home to vote. I strongly believe that the benefits of holding polling days on weekends would be several-fold and that this issue is something that warrants very careful consideration.

“The impact of weekday polls on our education system is particularly serious. 1,162 primary schools and 67 secondary schools were used as polling stations in the recent referendum on the Stability Treaty. This resulted in the schools being closed to for the day, interrupting tuition for hundreds of thousands of pupils.

“Each school day lost to an election or referendum must be made up at another stage during the school year. This in itself is not a satisfactory situation and mitigates against effective planning within individual schools. I am concerned that a scenario could arise where there may be multiple polls within any school year, schools may not be able to make up for the days lost as occurred during the foot and mouth outbreak a number of years ago.

“Weekday polls also directly impact the delivery of our local services. Many of those who man polling stations and count centres are local authority staff who are seconded from their work to perform electoral duties.

“It is regretful that holding of polls during the week impacts on the work of these teachers and local authority staff and ultimately, it is the taxpayer who foots the bill for this.

“In addition to halting the interruption to the school year and the secondment of members of the public service, holding polls on a Saturday or Sunday would also allow more people to vote. As things currently stand, many people from rural areas who are working or studying away from home cannot get home to vote during the week due to these commitments. Weekend polls would enable these people to get home to engage in the democratic process.

“Weekend elections and referenda would help avoid the misuse of public sector employees’ time, end disruption to the school year and would encourage more people to get out and vote. I believe that this measure would lead to a higher turnout in elections and referendums which would only strengthen our democracy.

“This issue is particularly timely given that there are a number of referenda in the pipeline including the children’s referendum. I cannot think of a more appropriate way of dealing with the Children’s referendum, for example, than by holding the poll on a weekend. I look forward to the response from Minister Hogan on this issue which will, I believe, will help improve our democracy.”

See article in the Irish Times here :