The Constitution requires that the Dáil, the Lower House of the Oireachtas / parliament is elected by the members who represent constituencies determined by law. Originally the government party presented a bill for the revision of constituencies. In the last 40 years commissions have been established to revise constituency boundaries. The Electoral Act 1997 provided for an independent Constituency Commission to revise constituencies from time to time.
The Constitution requires that the Dail constituencies are revised at least every 12 years in accordance with population changes. It must be a equality of representation in so far as practicable through the country. The courts have taken the view that a change is required every time there is significant population change, as disclosed by a census.
A population census is taken every 5 years, there is an automatic legislative mechanism which may initiate revision. The commission is to be composed of a judge of the Superior Courts nominated by the Chief Justice. Other members are the Ombudsman, Clerk of the Dáil, Clerk of the Seanad and the Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The Department of Environment provides the personnel.
The Commissioners must act independently and confidentially. They must seek public submission and delivers a report within six months on Dail and European constituencies.
The Constitution provides that it must be not less than one member per 30,000 and not more than a member per 20,000 of population (not electorate). The Constitution requires that each constituency must have a minimum of three deputies. The legislation sets a maximum number of members at five although there is no constitutional limit and up to nine members per constituency were returned in the past.
In challenges taken in the 1960s, the courts decided that there must be broad equality of representation in so far as practicable. They held that geographical consideration, dispersal and demands and deputies do not justify a greater number of members in larger rural consistencies. Exact party is not required. An attempt to overturn this position by constitutional referendum was defeated in 1968.
The commission is to seek to avoid breaching County boundaries in so far as practicable. They are to have a regard to significant physical features and density of population.
The Local Authority legislation provides for local authority electoral areas determined by Ministerial Order for the larger counties. In this case of the former Town Councils and the smaller County Councils, there was /is a single constituency.
The Minister for the Environment can establish boundary committees in relation to revision of local authority electoral areas. The committee may have between three and five members. It is independent in its functions and seek submissions. The revisions and recommendations will generally be implemented by Statutory Instrument made by the Minister.
A person is entitled to vote if he is included in the Register of Electors. Irish and UK citizens are eligible for inclusion in the Register of Electors for the Dáil, European elections and local elections.
Other EU nationals may vote in European and local elections. They may vote in Dáil elections where there as a reciprocal arrangement if any, Irish citizens only, may vote in referenda and presidential elections. Non- EU nationals may vote in local elections.
A person must be over the age of 18 to be included in the Register of Electors . This was reduced to 21 by Constitutional amendment in 1972. A person who reaches 18 years after the register is compiled may be entered in a supplementary register and be thereby eligible to vote.
A person must be ordinarily resident in the relevant area on the relevant qualifying date. A person who becomes resident after that date may be entered in the supplementary register.
A person who ceases to be ordinary resident but intends to return with 18 months, can remain registered. He may register in one area only. Certain persons are entitled to be registered at their home address.
Persons are not entitled to be registered as an elector in any more than one area. The Constitution prohibits double voting and it is also a serious electoral offence.
The Council is obliged to prepare and publish a Register of Electors annually. The Council may make house to house inquiries for that purpose. A draft electoral register is published and made available for inspection in early November, and a period is given for the submission of corrections. The final register is published in mid-February.
Claims to amend the register are adjudicated on by the County Registrar. If there is an appeal to Circuit Court from a decision of the County Registrar.
Supplementary register is established when an election is called, and its existence is publicised.
Persons who are entitled to be on the register may apply. The application must be made at least 15 days before the poll.
A list of postal voters is prepared as part of the register. A limited category of persons only may vote as postal voters. They include
- civil servants and their spouses posted abroad who would be ordinarily registered,
- members of Garda Siochana and Defence Forces registered at their home address
Persons who are unable to go to the local polling station; This includes
- Those having a physical illness or disability
- Those studying full time at an educational institution in Ireland, which is away from the home address where they are registered
- Those who cannot vote at their local polling station because of their occupation, service or employment
- Those who are unable to vote at their polling station because they are in prison as a result of an order of a court
A list of special voters who suffer from physical illnesses or disability living in hospitals, nursing home or similar institution who wish to vote at those locations, is prepared. The disability must be likely to continue for the duration of that register. There are time limits for making the necessary application.
The draft electoral register is published to certain entities and certain persons are entitled to inspect it.
The ballot paper lists the name of the candidates alphabetically. This has been upheld from a constitutional perspective. The party names of candidates or non-party must appear. Parties must be registered and accepted as a political party the Register of Political Parties  in order to appear on the ballot paper. This position must be upheld under the Constitution.
Persons elect by placing the numbers, expressing their preference opposite their choice of names. Any other mark which indicates a particular preference may also be permitted by the returning officer.
The Constitution provides that the ballot is to be secret. This is seen as an important constitutional principle. In the 1960s, a practice by which the voter’s registration number appeared on the counterfoil of the ballot paper was found unconstitutional, on the basis of the theoretical possibility that the ballot could be identified.
The polling booths must allow marking of ballots without observation. There are offences related to any illegitimate attempt to communicate in a way about information on a ballot paper. Persons are not obliged to disclose for whom he voted in any circumstances.
The elector attends the polling station. His name is crossed off the list of electors for the particular area and he is handed a ballot paper. The ballot paper is marked in an area which secures privacy (a booth or partial booth) and is them put in a box by the elector.
The presiding officer may seek evidence of identity age and qualification. He may administer an oath or affirmation in relation to entitlement. It is an offence to impersonate any person for the purpose of voting. Presiding officers at polling stations may require evidence of identity. A candidate, agent, may request proof of identity. The normal ID proofs are accepted for these purposes.
There are certain protections in relation to postal voting, which are designed to ensure the integrity of the ballot. The elector takes the ballot to a Garda station to authenticate his identity.
Special voters may vote at home may do so in the presence of an officer accompanied by a Garda/special returning officer who attends. There are all procedures to ensure the confidentiality of the vote.
Persons with disabilities may apply for special arrangements such as voting at an alternative station. There is provision for assistance systems in voting. Where a person is visually impaired or physically disabled, such that it would cause him difficulty in voting.
Person may be accompanied by companion who must have no association with a candidate and can assist a maximum of two voters. The presiding officer may assist persons with reading difficulty.
The Clerk of the Dáil is Registrar of Political Parties. Parties may apply to be registered provided that they are organised in the State or part of the State for the purpose of contesting Dail, European or local elections.
The Clerk must register any party which is a genuine political party organised in the State (or part of it). In the case of European elections. the name of the relevant European Parliamentary group may be noted.
The Clerk may refuse registration for certain reasons, such as similarity of name, unduly long, liable to mislead or confuse the voter. The registrars really maybe appealed to the appeal board comprising a High Court judge and the chairman of the Dáil and Seanad . Party affiliations appear on the ballot paper.
County Registrars or sheriffs are the returning officers for each county. Where a constituency is in two counties one will be appointed by the Minister. Where there are multiple constituencies, the relevant sheriff or county registrar will be returning officer for each.
Councils are responsible for the organisation and placings of polling stations. They must make a scheme at least d revise it at least every 10 years in consultation with the Dáil returning officer.