Many countries allow for their citizens resident overseas to vote in national elections. In most cases, voting is facilitated by the country’s network of diplomatic Missions, with Embassies either operating polling stations, or assisting with collating postal voting. My Department is responsible for liaising between Embassies based in Ireland and the relevant Irish authorities when an Embassy wishes to operate a polling station in Ireland. If there are no plans to operate an in-person polling station to allow citizens to vote, for example in the case of postal voting, my Department would not necessarily be informed.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, and following consultations with the Department of Health, my Department has instituted a number of additional requirements to ensure that public health measures are adhered to where an Embassy wishes to operate a polling station. In particular, Embassies are asked to investigate the option of allowing postal or remote voting, where that is legally and constitutionally possible. Where it is not legally possible to facilitate postal voting, officials from my Department have engaged intensively with the Embassies to ensure that polling is carried out in a safe manner and in compliance with public health guidelines.
My Department received 16 requests to facilitate the operation of polling stations by 14 foreign Embassies for elections taking place in the past 12 months, namely: Algeria, Chile, Croatia, France, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Moldova, Myanmar, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, and Spain. Of these, one election was cancelled before polling could take place, and in two cases polling took place exclusively by post, without the need to open a physical polling station. Polling stations were opened in the other cases.
Under the regulations governing Level 5 restrictions, provision is made to allow for those engaged in providing, or accessing, essential services to move outside the 5km limit. The list of essential services includes “The provision of services essential to the functioning of diplomatic missions and consular posts in the State”. The Department of Foreign Affairs considers the operation of a polling station by a diplomatic Mission to allow its citizens to vote to be a service essential to the functioning of a diplomatic Mission in the State.
Following written confirmation from the relevant Embassy of its ability to adhere to public health measures, my Department confirms that citizens who are eligible to vote are permitted to travel outside the 5km limit for the express purpose of accessing the polling stations. Voters travelling to the polling stations have to be in a position to present evidence of their entitlement to vote. My Department informs An Garda Síochána of this permission.