Saturday polls would end regressive practice of schools being closed for voting

Fine Gael TD for Dublin North, Alan Farrell, has called for the holding of elections and referenda on Saturdays or Sundays, to bring an end the practice where over 1,000 schools are closed every time the people go to the polls.

“The closure of over 1,000 schools for today’s referenda on the abolition of the Seanad and the establishment of a Court of Appeal is yet another reminder of the need to hold polls on Saturdays. The relatively low turnout is another casualty of the decision to hold the poll on a weekday.

“Weekday polls require the closure of schools and in doing so, unnecessarily discommode our children. As a result of pupils being given a day off, working parents are having to make arrangements for childcare, often at considerable expense. This is the last thing many people need during a recession.

“1,162 primary schools and 67 secondary schools were used as polling stations in the referendum on the Stability Treaty in 2012. This resulted in the schools being closed 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 if there were multiple polls within any school year, schools might 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 the 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.

“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. 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. It is with this in mind I introduced the Electoral Amendment (Weekend Voting) Bill 2012.”