Campaigners voice concern over 'family voting' in council elections
DEMOCRACY campaigners have voiced concern over the secrecy of the council election ballot being breached by 'family voting'.
'Family voting' involves voters entering the same polling booth to vote together, discuss which candidates to choose or oversee how another person is voting.
Election group Democracy Volunteers said its observers witnessed "significant levels" of family voting during last week's local government elections in Northern Ireland.
It urged the Electoral Office to improve training for polling station workers ahead of the May 23 European elections to discourage the practice and preserve ballot secrecy.
Democracy Volunteers deployed 24 observers, who spent between 30 and 45 minutes at polling stations in Northern Ireland last Thursday, observing 320 of the 1,463 ballot boxes.
The organisation said its team identified 'family voting' in 44 per cent of polling stations, amounting to about 10 per cent of all those voting during the observations.
Dr John Ault, director of Democracy Volunteers, said polling staff "rarely intervened" to prevent the instances of 'family voting'.
"In a democratic society, where every voter should have the right to cast their ballot in private, we are concerned that voters in Northern Ireland do not always have the chance to cast their vote in private," he said.
"This in itself is concerning enough, but polling staff rarely intervened to tell voters that they should not be doing and, indeed, when we observed them seeing family voting, they did not seem to understand that it is, in reality, a serious matter that they should interrupt."
Dr Ault, who intends to write to the Electoral Office about the findings, called for staff to be reminded in training ahead of the European elections that they "should intervene to prevent" family voting.
Chief electoral officer Virginia McVea said: "The Electoral Office for Northern Ireland awaits the official report on the election for government which is prepared by the Electoral Commission.
"There is no other suggestion of 'family voting' being an issue in Northern Ireland.
"That said, with a culture of continuous improvement in electoral administration we will remind our staff of the importance of ensuring that people voting in the booths have privacy.
"Thank you to all our thousands of poll and count staff who come out time and again to ensure the delivery of elections in Northern Ireland."