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The great Donegal postal voting scam of 1985

An enormous scam to rig postal voting in the north-western county took place. Fortunately, the scammers weren’t all that subtle…

shutterstock_305354573 Slieve League, Co Donegal Source: Shutterstock/POM POM

A MAJOR ELECTORAL fraud took place in Donegal prior to the 1985 local elections, papers released under the 30-year-rule by the National Archives reveal.

The fraud related to a rigging of postal votes in the area with correspondence between the gardaí and the Department of Justice revealing the extent of the scheme.

Overall, 3,274 applications were made for postal votes in the county prior to the local elections that May. Of those, just 634 were considered to be compliant with application procedures.

20151202_131247 Source: National Archives 2015/88/191

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20151202_131338 The original memo to government regarding the Donegal voting 'irregularities' Source: National Archives 2015/88/191

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The irregularities found were:

  • Dubious signatures on applications
  • Large numbers of applicants claiming to be employed in professions in far greater numbers than were known to be present in the area
  • Different ink used to complete and sign the forms
  • Individuals witnessing multiple applications at the same time and place

So, perhaps not the most subtle of frauds then. It seems a giant stockpiling of votes for the elections was underway.

No memory

When the returning officer of the county council returned certain forms for clarification he found that the people he had returned them to had no memory of making any such applications.

Others returned their forms with different professions to those on the initial form, while still more denied witnessing the signatures they were supposed to have been present for.

20151202_131420 The original telexed message from the Letterkenny Chief Superintendent to the Department of Justice, 4 June 1985 Source: National Archives 2015/88/191

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One council member approached a house from which a number of applications had emanated only to find the house was occupied by students who knew nothing of the applications themselves, but who had been approached by an “unidentified male” who had asked them to say that they had in fact made them.

In yet another case one person apparently presented nine different applications for approval.

It seems that the fraud may have failed in its overall aim given that only the applications that were fully compliant were issued with a voting card. The remainder, all 2,640 of them were investigated by the gardaí.

Milford and Glenties

Nagleanntavillage Glenties village in 2010 Source: Wikimedia Commons

And where were things at their dodgiest? In the Milford and Glenties areas it seems.

The official Garda report into the scam showed that, with 1,470 applications, Glenties had by far and away the most of any electoral area. However, the “irregularity” still applied to every Donegal other electoral zone.

Likewise, the issues seen weren’t organised at any central level. There was no mastermind.

Rather, each area had “different persons” who were concerned “in attempts to cause postal votes to issue irregularly”. Only in Ireland.

Of the 29 council seats available in Donegal during that election, 11 went to Fianna Fáil, nine went to Fine Gael, Sinn Féin earned one seat and the remaining eight went to independents.

How differently the council makeup may have looked had the scam not been picked up on we may never know.

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See National Archives file 2015/88/191

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