On Friday, May 22, every adult citizen who arrives at a polling station will be asked to vote in the Presidential Age Referendum.
While the majority of media attention has been directed at the landmark marriage equality vote, each of us will also have to decide on whether we want to lower the age requirement for those running for the office of president.
Here, we lay out what you need to know for this vote. We’re not advocating a viewpoint either way - but hope you’ll find it informative and can make your own decision on May 22.
|What exactly am I voting on?||Show me the ballot paper! How do I cast my vote?|
|How hard would it be for a young person to become President?||So who’s in favour, and who’s against?|
|What about spoiling my vote?||What do the polls say?|
Right now, only people who are 35 years of age or over can run for the position of President of Ireland. This is a stipulation laid down in Article 1.4.1 of the Constitution, which says:
‘Every citizen who has reached his thirty-fifth year of age is eligible for election to the office of President.’
The proposal in the referendum is to replace the words ‘his thirty-fifth year of age’ with the words “the age of twenty-one years”. If passed, the Article would read:
‘Every citizen who has reached the age of twenty-one years is eligible for election to the office of President.’
It’s a small change, but one which would open the doors of Áras an Uachtaráin to a great many more citizens. However, being nominated for the position would still remain a considerable challenge.
The Referendum Commission’s official guide [PDF] has example ballot papers. You’ll get two: a GREEN one for the presidential age vote, and a WHITE one for the marriage equality referendum.
Here’s what the presidential ballot looks like:
So, to be clear:
• Mark an X in the YES box to lower the age to 21, OR
• Mark an X in the NO box to keep the age limit at 35.
Polling stations are open from 7am until 10pm on Friday, May 22. The deadline for registering to vote - if you weren’t already on the register - has already passed.
The process for nominating and electing a president will remain completely unchanged no matter how this referendum pans out - with the exception of the change in the age limit.
All other constitutional rules on the Presidency would stay as they are. So, a hypothetical 21-year-old candidate would need:
• To be nominated by at least 20 people from the Oireachtas - either current Senators or TDs- OR
• Be nominated by four councils / local authorities by democratic vote.
Each Senator / TD / council can only nominate a single candidate. The only person who can circumvent this nomination procedure is a former President, or one ending their first term, and they can only nominate themselves for re-election.
It’s a tall hurdle to clear - even the very popular Senator David Norris had difficulty securing his nomination last time around, as he was forced to collect signatures from an assortment of independent TDs and Senators.
And after all that, the successful candidate would still need to stand for election in front of the Irish public.
The referendum comes from the Constitutional Convention, the group set up by the Government to consider the current document and recommend changes to be put to the people.
The Government itself was not obliged to proceed with the Convention’s recommendations, but decided to hold a referendum on this issue.
That said, there’s been very little in the way of campaigning on the topic, as it’s been overshadowed by the other vote. Fine Gael quietly supports the change, while Labour has no official preference.
Joan Burton has said she’s expecting it to be defeated. Youth Work Ireland is one of the few organisations actively campaigning for a Yes vote.
So it seems that greatest argument in favour of changing the constitution comes from the man who helped write it.
In a 1937 debate two months before the Constitution was put to the people, President Eamon DeValera - who supervised its creation - said he saw no point in the age restriction.
‘I do not say that if I were voting myself, I would be inclined to take a person younger than 35, but 35 years is found in a number of other Constitutions. My own feeling, then, is that I would take away the 35 years of age and say that whoever is going to be elected will be the choice of the people themselves …
… if I get any support from the other members of the House, I should be inclined to say that I would wipe out the 35 years of age provision.’
While spoiling your vote isn’t officially recommended by the Commission, many people view it as a valid form of protest.
Putting a mark other than an ‘X’ will not invalidate your vote, despite social media posts to the contrary. While you should certainly make things clear by using the exact mark your ballot paper asks you to, the Referendum Act specifically states:
‘… [a] ballot paper shall not be invalid merely because it does not comply with the instructions for marking which are printed thereon, and in particular shall not be invalid because the mark “x” is not used in marking such paper, provided such paper is so marked as to indicate with reasonable certainty the will of the voter.’
So to be clear, a mark in either box may be interpreted as a vote.
The opinion polls predict a solid defeat. A poll for the Irish Times of 1,200 on the Wednesday and Thursday a week before polling day found 64% of people will vote no.
That’s a bigger margin than the 58% who say they are in favour of the marriage equality referendum - which is widely expected to pass.
It is likely that the presidential referendum result will be known in the late evening of Saturday, May 23, after the result of the marriage equality referendum.
Our team will be providing updates on both polls throughout the day.