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Why are schools used as polling places?

There are some very sensible reasons why hundreds of primary schools will close today to facilitate voting.

George Higgins puts the finishing touches on the polling station at St Joseph's Boys N.S. in Terenure, Dublin
George Higgins puts the finishing touches on the polling station at St Joseph's Boys N.S. in Terenure, Dublin
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

This piece was originally published on October 4, 2013

TODAY, HUNDREDS OF thousands of voters will file in and out of polling places across the country.

The vast majority of polling places will be primary schools, with estimates that upwards of 90 per cent of primary schools will be closed today.

Many parents complain of being put out by the extra day off.

Planning for childcare was singled out as a major concern in this discussion, while Kerry County Councillor Gillian Wharton Slattery told Radio Kerry before the Seanad referendum last year that there were other options.

We have other municipal buildings which could be put to use on the day because there is not a constant flow of traffic that would disrupt things. The foyer of a council building or an area of a Garda station or a library.

So, why do primary school kids get a day off? Why not use one of the areas outlined by Slattery?

The Department of Local Government says that it is an issue for local Returning Officers, but more often than not, it comes down to the facilities on hand.

In a parliamentary reply on the issue after the Children’s Rights referendum last May, junior minister at the Department of Local Government Jan O’Sullivan said that the issues of location, access and cost play a part.

“Polling places normally will be in  a village or some other population centre. The returning officer is required to locate polling stations as conveniently as possible for use by the electorate in each polling place.

“In selecting locations, the traditional approach has been to use schools.

This is understandable given their central location in most communities, and especially so in rural areas over the years where a viable alternative to the local school would have been difficult to find. In these challenging economic times, it is also worth noting that the use of any school for the taking of a poll or counting of votes is free of charge where the school is in receipt of a State grant.

However, there is no requirement on Returning Officers to use schools.

Read: Minister expects low turnout and senators to respect referendum result

Read: Let’s figure this out – what’s the real plural of referendum?

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