One of the arguments often put forward in Ireland against emigrant voting is that Irish expats “should vote where they live”. This argument, of course, ignores the fact that many emigrants simply don’t have the choice to do that.
I’ve come across a statistic that helps to explain why this argument comes up repeatedly: A Eurobarometer survey has found that most Irish people are misinformed about voting rights in the EU, and believe that EU nationals have more rights than they do when they move to another EU state. About 74% of them, in fact, believe that non-Irish EU citizens residing in Ireland can vote in Irish national elections.
Of course, they can’t – EU nationals living in another member state can only vote in local and European elections. And with only 26% of Irish-based respondents answering correctly, they were far less likely to know this than nationals of other European nations – only the citizens of Malta were less likely to answer the question correctly. In contrast, 58% of those in Denmark and 57% of those in Austria, and 55% of the French were aware that EU citizens don’t have the right to vote or stand as a candidate in national elections in their EU host countries.
More encouraging, however, is the fact that Irish people are most likely to state that EU citizens living in another member state should have the right to vote and stand as a candidate in national elections. 68% of Irish people believed this, while Spaniards were next most likely to agree, with 62%. Only 32% of those in Denmark answered the same.
The survey also found that when it comes to European MEP elections, 45% of Irish nationals would prefer to vote for a candidate in their Member State of residence, while 48% would prefer to vote in their Member State of origin. Irish nationals living outside of Ireland, however, have no option to vote for MEP candidates in Ireland.
Ballotbox.ie is now allowing Irish expats to cast a symbolic ballot in this year’s general election in Ireland. The site is aimed at the three million Irish passport holders living abroad.
The site opened on Monday and will remain open until 12:00 GMT on Tuesday 22. Only those living outside of Ireland will be able to cast a ballot.
The site’s organisers, who are based in Canada, have done a brilliant job at calling attention to the disenfranchisement of our emigrants. They have had much positive press coverage – highlighting the fact that emigrant voting is viewed as an increasingly normal part of expat life around the world.
A sampling of the press coverage:
Cast your vote at http://www.ballotbox.ie.
Green candidate Ciaran Cuffe has expressed support for granting voting rights for recent emigrants. A statement on the Politics Press Release site says:
Green Party TD for Dun Laoghaire Ciaran Cuffe today called for all Irish citizens who have emigrated to retain the right to vote in national and local elections and in referenda for up to five years.
Deputy Cuffe said: “Many people leaving Ireland today do not intend it to be a long-term or permanent move. For some people emigration is necessary to find employment during the economic downturn. For others it is a lifestyle choice. However, many share a common desire to return home again once economic and employment conditions improve. I believe that all Irish citizens who have contributed so much to the State and wish to have a genuine stake in its future political direction of the country should not automatically lose to their right to vote once they leave the country.
“Under Irish law if you are living abroad you cannot be entered into the register of electors with some exceptions for Irish diplomats, members of the defence and police forces who can apply for a postal vote. More than 110 countries allow passport holders who live abroad the right to vote, however Ireland is not one of them.”
Deputy Cuffe said: “Ireland should look at French, Dutch and British examples of where the diaspora living overseas are afforded the right to vote electronically, or by mail or at a local embassy or consulate. If it can be done effectively in other countries we can do it here.”
The Green Party and Fianna Fail had promised to make recommendations on the feasibility of voting rights for emigrants in their 2009 programme for government. Those recommendations, which were due in October 2010, were never delivered.