Judge allows 18 of 32 votes in ‘count afresh’ in Tralee

When is a pencil mark a number ‘1’ vote or an inconsequential slip of the hand?

Judge allows 18 of 32 votes in ‘count afresh’ in Tralee

Such were the issues placed before a judge yesterday when he had to delve into the inner thinkings of some Kerry voters.

The Listowel Municipal District 2014 local election ‘count afresh’ decamped from John Mitchels GAA pavilion in Tralee to Limerick Circuit Court for Judge Tom O’Donnell to give a decision on 32 disputed votes.

The historic ‘count afresh’ followed a Supreme Court decision after ex-senator Dan Kiely (Ind) lost out on a seat by two votes.

After nearly three hours yesterday, Judge O’Donnell allowed 18 of the 32 votes, rejecting 14. With regard to some of the 18 votes allowed, he ruled that a number were non-transferable.

One observer remarked: “It was like going back to the count when George W Bush beat Al Gore in the US presidential election by a whisker after a lot of Gore votes were rejected because they were not fully perforated.”

Up to 18 lawyers and solicitors were present in court as the returning officer for the recount, Charlie O’Connor, gave evidence that up to 900 votes were in dispute after they were initially sorted in Tralee on Wednesday.

After whittling them down, a process that took over six hours, it was agreed that 32 ballot papers required judicial inspection.

Also during the sorting process on Wednesday, 10 votes had been deemed invalid, in line with the Supreme Court ruling.

The 32 disputed votes had been placed in a signed and sealed envelope and brought to Limerick for adjudication by Judge O’Donnell, who was told photocopies had been given to the candidates.

Judge O’Connor gave descriptions of the markings on each of the 32 ballot papers, and his view on whether each slip should be admitted to the count or be deemed invalid.

With some papers, issues arose over ticks being placed along with numerical marks.

One voter marked 1 to 13 in sequence, but also put in tick marks. Judge O’Donnell said: “This overzealous voter got full value for the State-sponsored pencil.”

Another slip had votes marked from 1 to 4 in sequence and a slight tick mark. Solicitor Pat Enright opposed this ballot paper being admitted, saying the tick was in fact a small ‘1’, resulting in two 1s on the paper.

Mr Enright said: “A one is a one whether it’s a light, dark, bright, short, big, or small one.”

Giving his ruling, Judge O’Donnell said he was very grateful to the candidates, their election agents, and the returning staff who had narrowed down the issues before him to 32 votes.

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