I propose to take Questions Nos. 654, 658 and 659 together.
Electoral law provides that a ballot paper at an election is invalid for a number of reasons: if it does not bear the official mark; does not clearly indicate a first preference for some candidate; indicates a first preference for more than one candidate; or has anything written or marked on it, which in the opinion of the returning officer is calculated to identify the elector.
My Department is currently compiling the results for the recently held European and local elections and referendum. The information is being compiled based on returns from local returning officers and will be published in due course on my Department's website and will include information on the reason given for invalid ballot papers.
My Department recently completed a public consultation on a Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) that was prepared in relation to the establishment of an electoral commission. The proposed functions of the commission as set out in the RIA include conducting research and developing programmes and implementing ways to enhance voter education and engagement. Such research and programmes could assist in analysing in more detail the reasons for invalid ballot papers and in helping the public to have a better understanding of the voting system.
The submissions received in the course of the consultation are being considered in my Department and the content used to inform a preferred option for establishing a commission, which will be brought to Government for consideration. Once a preferred option is agreed, work would then commence on the preparation of the necessary legislation to establish an electoral commission.
On the matter of holding a number of polls on the same day, arrangements for the holding of polls are set out in electoral law. I am required under electoral law to appoint the day upon which the poll at an election or a referendum shall take place. The law allows for the taking of the poll on any day of the week and does not preclude a number of polls being taken together. This flexibility allows all relevant factors to be taken into account at any given time in setting the polling day. While I have no proposals to change the current arrangements, they are kept under review in my Department.