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When do the polls close? What should I bring? Everything you need to know before casting your vote

Happy voting!

3638 Polling Station Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Need some quick tips? We’ve put together some – find them on Twitter here and here on Instagram - share them a friend who needs some info.

TODAY IS THE day. The public are going to the polls for the 2020 general election… the first general election of 2020, some might say.

But let’s see how today goes – your first concern is getting yourself to a polling station and casting your vote.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Before we get into it, there are a range of supports to make sure voters with certain disabilities can cast their ballot

Full details are available here on Citizens Information. This ranges from ensuring wheelchair access to having the presiding officer assist you. 

It is too late to facilitate some other arrangements – such as a postal vote, or changing your vote to a different polling station.

015 General Election Posters 2020 Source: RollingNews.ie

There’s an election happening

Wait, really?

Haven’t you heard? The Dáil was dissolved on 14 January after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar decided it was time to go to the polls. The last time we had a general election was 2016.

That rings a bell. Now, who will I vote for?

That’s up for you to decide, and to help, we’ve put together this candidate database. We listed every candidate in every constituency, and asked them three key questions, to help you make your mind.

Wow. There’s a lot of candidates.

531, to be exact, running for 160 seats (including two extra seats compared to the last Dáil). 

Before you head out to vote

vote 131 Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

When do polling stations open and close?

They open at 7am today, Saturday 8 February, and close at 10pm tonight.

What do I need to bring with me to the polling station?

Your polling card, but you don’t need it as long as you’re registered to vote. You should bring it if you have it, as it will help speed things along.

You won’t be turned away if you don’t have it.

Bring ID, as in every polling station a certain number of voters will be asked for some form of ID:

  • A passport
  • A driving licence
  • An employee identity card containing a photograph
  • A student identity card issued by an educational institution and containing a photograph
  • A travel document containing name and photograph
  • A bank, saving or credit union book containing address in the constituency or local electoral area (where appropriate)
  • A Public Services Card

Inside the polling station

Vote 138 President Michael D Higgins and wife Sabina cast their votes last summer. Press photographers are permitted in polling station for situations like this, but photographer is strictly prohibited otherwise. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

What happens once inside?

Hand your polling card to the polling station staff, or give your name and address. They will tick you off a list, and give you a ballot paper.

You’ll be directed to a polling booth.

Fill in your ballot, fold it, and then pop it in the ballot box as directed by staff.

Hey… So what if I walk right in there with a load of leaflets for my favourite candidate and start canvassing all the voters?

Basically, don’t do that.

It’s illegal to display or distribute campaign material, or canvass in any manner, within 50 metres of a polling station from 6.30am until 10.30pm

Loitering and congregating with other persons is also prohibited, so get in, vote, and get out.

How do I fill in the ballot paper?

The most important thing is to only use numbers. No Xs, no ticks, no phallic symbols, or else you run the risk of spoiling your vote.

Write a 1 beside your first preference, write a 2 beside your second preference, and so on and so forth.

If your first preference is elected or eliminated, your vote will move on to the second preference you gave, and so on.

Do I need to give every candidate a preference?

Eh, that’s a tough one. You don’t have to. You vote for as many or as few candidates as you like.

Some argue that you should fill in the entire ballot paper, as there is a chance, however small, that every single vote will count.

Another argument is that you first ask yourself, which of these candidates do I absolutely not want to see elected? Give a preference the people you want to represent you in Dáil Éireann, and also the people you could stomach holding that position, but leave blank the ones who you really and truly do not want to see elected.

It’s up to you. Read everything you need to know about it here.

I can’t wait to take a selfie in the polling station!

Please don’t. You should also avoid talking to anyone aside from staff in the polling station, as the staff have to make sure that no canvassing is taking place in the station.

Just get in, vote, and leave. Don’t act the maggot.

I saw a Bible in the polling station. What was that about?

If there’s any doubt as to your identity, you may be asked to swear on a Bible or affirm.

Repeat after me:

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 [your name] on the register of Dáil electors now in force for the constituency of [location] and that I have not already voted at this election, and that I had attained the age of eighteen years on [date of coming into force of the register].

I’m not on the register of electors. Can I still vote?

No.

If you’re in any doubt as to whether you’re included, go to CheckTheRegister.ie. You can also go your polling station and ask, but if your name’s not there, you will not be allowed to vote. It’s as simple as that.

If you were registered to vote after the local and European elections back in May, you might not be on the register. Here’s why.

 Election talking points

european-parliament-election Presiding Officer Carmel McBride and Garda Adrian McGettigan carry a ballot box to the polling station on the island of Inishbofin after being dropped off on the island by the Irish Air Corp. Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

What’s going on with Tipperary?

A question mark was hanging over this constituency all week. The death of candidate Marese Skehan lead to questions about whether the vote should – or could, legally – go ahead.

The relevant minister signed a special order on Wednesday allowing for the vote to go ahead.

This is a complex situation, and it’s likely that we haven’t heard the end of it yet but it’s important to stress polls will open as normal today at 7am and the election will proceed as usual. 

And the islands?

More than 2,000 people living on the islands off the coasts of Donegal, Galway, and Mayo voted yesterday, with the help of ferries and helicopters to bring ballot boxes to and from the remote areas.

There had been plans to pass legislation to change the practice and to ensure island voters go to the polls on the same day as the rest of the country. This didn’t pass in time for the election.

Isn’t the weather meant to be a bit rubbish?

Yes, and you can thank Storm Ciara. Met Éireann issued a Status Yellow wind and rainfall warnings for the entire country, later adding orange warnings for Galway, Mayo and Donegal. 

Active Retirement Ireland is encouraging the public to help their older neighbours get to their local polling station if adverse weather conditions prevent them travelling alone.

The count

european-parliament-election Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

When are the votes counted?

Once polls close, the votes are transported to the count centres dotted across the country. Counting begins on Sunday morning.

When will we have a result?

How long is a piece of string? You can expect the first counts to be announced in or around 2pm, and with that we might see the first TDs elected.

By that evening, it will start to become clear who the big winners and losers are.

When you wake up on Monday, a significant number of the seats will have been filled.

However, some counts will drag on into next week.

The aftermath

general-election-ireland-2020 Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald at the final TV leaders' debate at the RTE studios. Source: PA Images

Who’s going to win?

Eh… no one, probably. If you believe the opinion polls, no one party will be able to form a government.

Wait hang on, what happens if there’s no clear winner?

Parties will start scoping out each other for coalition, like Fine Gael and Labour in 2011. Another option is a confident and supply agreement, like Fine Gael obtained from Fianna Fáil in 2016. Fianna Fáil supported Fine Gael or abstained in crucial votes, such as motions of confidence and budgets. Fine Gael also enlisted the help of a scattering of independents to make up the numbers.

But that’s not easy…

Nope. The Dáil with convene and try to vote for a taoiseach. This went on for a while even in 2016.

If no progress is made, the previous taoiseach from the previous Dáil (in this case, Leo Varadkar), will make another trip to the Áras and ask President Higgins to dissolve that Dáil again.

If only there a way to stay up to date with all this.

Well, he have some good news. We’ll be covering all the latest results on TheJournal.ie - with liveblogs, reporters roving count centres, a special late night edition of The Explainer, easily accessible results  – all the available bells and whistles, really.

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About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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