UP to 40% of army personnel may have been left without a vote in the recent elections, the Kildare Nationalist has learned.
The problem was brought to light at the Punchestown count centre when a partner of a serving soldier highlighted the issue with Kildare TD Fiona O’Loughlin after receiving a number of messages from members both at home and overseas who experienced difficulties with their vote.
A spokesperson for the military conceded there were some difficulties experienced with the process, but couldn’t specify why at this time.
“Óglaigh na hÉireann [the Irish Defence Forces] has been made aware that a number of personnel have expressed concern that they did not receive a postal vote,” said the spokesperson for the PDF.
“Inquiries are ongoing into these concerns, with a view to establishing the facts. This will include confirmation or otherwise that personnel were correctly registered”
Because of the nature of their work which cannot guarantee their presence at home, all military personnel are issued with a postal vote with which to exercise their franchise at a time of elections.
Though unconfirmed the figure of 40% was estimated by the whistleblower after one of the complainants reported that this was the amount of personnel on a course at the time that found they couldn’t cast their vote.
How or why this happened has not yet been established, but an inquiry is ongoing.
The problem was three-fold, and affected serving members throughout the 15,000 soldiers, sailors and aircrew nationwide, and not just the 674 members serving overseas.
Ballot papers were late in arriving, some were missing the ballot sheet for local elections, and some were not accepted by ballot station staff for those who used them as walk-in rather than postal ballots.
“On the day of voting we started getting messages from people not able to get their votes in,” said the spouse.
“We were inundated. Messages started pouring in,” it was reported.
However, it was conceded that for those PDF members in home barracks whose names were on local registers “their COs gave them leave to vote. They were very flexible”.
Strangely, the local authority was not made aware of these difficulties.
“Kildare Co Council has not been made aware of any anomalies with the postal vote for the Defence Forces,” said spokesperson Maura McIvor.
Fiona O’Loughlin, the TD to whom the difficulty was initially raised with, has said that she “is concerned by reports that serving members of the Defence Forces did not get an opportunity to vote” and has called on Minister Kehoe to investigate why so many members did not get their voting cards.
“As I understand it, many members of the Defence Forces missed out on their opportunity to vote. The reasons range from not getting their postal votes on time to being taken off the postal vote register. Other members only received their postal vote cards the day before the election and while some officers accepted these at the polling booths, others did not,” she revealed.
“While I was at the count centre in Kildare I was informed by the wives and partners of the Defence Forces that the ballot papers for some of those serving overseas were not sent. I saw photographs of boxes of ballot papers, which were taken on Monday, after the election, and they had not been sent,” said Deputy O’Loughlin.
The TD also pointed out how this oversight was doubly difficult for the Department of Defence, coming as it does when so many staff are leaving on account of pay and conditions.
“I found this particularly disturbing given that a major campaign was launched on social media against the Government in recent weeks by a number of groups associated with military personnel who were seeking to highlight the appalling conditions being endured by military families,” she pointed out.
“Defence Force members are unable to participate in any kind of protests or work stoppages. It is usually left to their families and to veterans to stand up and have their voices heard. One way they can and do have their voices heard is at the ballot box but unfortunately for many this time that was even denied to them”, she concluded.
The army acknowledged this problem would not be taken lightly.In a statement they said: “Óglaigh na hÉireann places a very high level of importance on ensuring that all personnel are provided with the opportunity to register for a postal vote, and receive said vote. To this end, personnel are provided with registration forms through their chain of command in accordance with Defence Forces General Routine Orders. Due to the nature of military service, all Defence Forces personnel who are registered to vote are registered as a postal voter”.