A REPORT BY the Referendum Commission into the referendums on the Seanad and the Court of Appeal has found that there was significant confusion over the ballot papers, particularly the Seanad vote.
The report said that the wording of the question, in which a Yes vote meant that the voter wanted to abolish the Seanad, led to some people voting the wrong way.
Thirteen per cent of people surveyed for the report said that they voted Yes because they wanted to retain the Seanad, when in fact their vote did the opposite.
More than half of the people surveyed for the report (55 per cent) said that it was quite difficult or very difficult to tell what they were being asked to vote for in the Seanad ballot paper. Just under half (47 per cent) said the same thing about the Court of Appeal ballot paper.
The final result of the Seanad referendum was 51.7 per cent in favour of retaining it against 48.3 per cent in favour of abolishing it.
The Government acknowledged that the ballot papers were confusing after the Seanad referendum was defeated in October, with Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan saying: “We don’t really simplify things that are straightforward”.
The format of ballot papers is set out in law and is not allowed to be changed.
The Referendum Commission, which is tasked with managing referendums and promoting public awareness of them, said that the format of ballot papers should be reviewed in order to ensure that it conforms with accepted international standards.
The report which was published today looks at how the Referendum Commission ran its information campaign for the October referendums and how effective they were.
The Commission said that the relatively low turnout of 39.2 per cent, while higher than the meagre 33.5 per cent turnout for the children’s rights referendum in 2012, was still a matter of concern.
It suggested that establishing a permanent Referendum Commission, rather than just setting it up every time a referendum is called, could help to do research into the reasons behind low turnout.
The report notes that the Commission has four months – far more time than is usually given – to prepare information and campaigns for the two referendums.
It found that the campaign resonated with the public; 82 per cent of respondents could recall the Commission’s advertisement which ran on television – the highest figure of any recent referendum.
Similarly, almost three quarters of respondents (70 per cent) said that the Commission’s guide to the referendums was helpful.
The report was sent to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan in November and was published today by the Commission.