Derek Mooney: Time To Retire #HomeToVote?


From top: Home to Vote has done its job. argues Derek Mooney

Type #HomeToVote into Google and you will find pages and pages of links to news items from around the globe detailing the stories of thousands of young Irish emigres traveling back to vote at the recent referendum.

You need to dive a few pages into the results to find items relating to the 2015 origins of the hashtag during the Marriage Equality campaign. Its history, in so much as there is a history, is set out on pages 158-159 of Ireland Says Yes: The Inside Story of How the Vote for Marriage Equality Was Won (One of the books on my 2017 Summer political reading list).

#HomeToVote spontaneously appeared late in the afternoon on the eve of polling day. The campaign had its own #BeMyYes campaign which had generated tens of thousands of messages from people committing themselves to Vote Yes, including many from young Irish people abroad considering returning home.

But back in 2015, #HomeToVote was unplanned, and was all the more effective for that. Within hours the slow trickle of posts turned into a viral sensation, one commemorated by the great Annie West #HomeToVote cartoon.

Between 5pm on Thursday May 21 and 5pm Friday May 22 (polling day) around 72,000 messages were posted online using #HomeToVote.

As a campaign awareness tool, it was superb. Its viral reach brought the story of the campaign to news sites and online journals across the globe in the final hours of the campaign.

But its greatest strength was as an online mobilisation tool for what campaigners call GOTV, getting out the vote. Not just because of the many voters who returned home to vote but because of the many more people it motivated in the last day of the campaign to get out and vote Yes.

The message was clear: there are young people prepared to travel from half way around the world to vote to secure the rights of others, so the least you can do is to take 30 minutes to get to the polling station and vote.

Where the 2015 marriage equality #HomeToVote was spontaneous and unexpected, the 2018 incarnation was not just planned, it was an important element of a well-honed campaign strategy.

That is not a criticism. This is what successful campaigns do. They see what works elsewhere and adapt it to their own situation.

Both sides, Yes and No, saw the success of the campaign the first time around and realised that they both needed their own #HomeToVote operation – only one side did it much more effectively.

The 2018 cohort was as motivated and determined as their antecedents. Their 8th Ref #HomeToVote stories of the enormous lengths they went to, just to get back to cast their ballot were every bit as moving as those of 2015.

There were two differences, though and both relate to this being a planned operation, rather than a spontaneous one. Neither of these undermine the validity of the exercise, this time around, but do raise questions about any third outing for #Hometovote.

The first is the 18-month rule. Traveling back to vote is not an open-ended invitation. Section 11.3 of the 1992 Electoral Act says that Irish citizens may retain the right to vote at home, for up to 18 months after moving away, but only on the condition that they intend to return to Ireland within that timeframe.

The second difference was the added element that well-intentioned third parties might be willing to offer help to those considering returning home-to-vote but finding the cost a barrier. There were various suggestions that flights or travel costs could be crowdfunded.

I don’t question anyone’s motives here, but I do think suggestions of paying for those going to vote is approaching the point where #HomeToVote ceases to be a positive GOTV campaigning tool and comes very close to straying over the line.

Section 135 of the above mentioned 1992 Electoral Act sets out what constitutes bribery at an election, specifically a Dáil election. It makes it illegal to

“give valuable consideration to induce a voter to vote, or to procure the election of any person or the vote of any voter, or on account of a voter having voted”

It then defines “give”, “induce” and “procure” to include agreeing or promising or attempting to give, induce or procure directly or indirectly. Similarly, it defines “valuable consideration” as including the giving, lending or agreeing to give or lend, or the offer or promise to procure any money, money’s worth or valuable security or any valuable consideration or any office, place or employment to or for any person.

So, is offering to pay for one’s flight home to vote an offence in and of itself? What is the situation if it is only on the condition that they vote a certain way? And what if you offer to pay for the flight and also throw in a few Euros to cover meals and drinks?

How would we feel about a #HomeToVote operation in a constituency where party X only held its seat by a dozen or so votes, or where party Y was just a handful of votes short of the final seat the last time out?

Would we all be as understanding of a #HomeToVote operation that was so narrowly focussed and financed? Would we see it as positive and altruistic?

It is not as if we cannot imagine such situations arising. It is almost exactly a year since allegations of voter fraud were flying about in the Derry constituency of Foyle when the sitting SDLP MP, Mark Durkan was beaten by just 169 votes.

Those allegations focused on the surprising increase in the number of proxy votes issued. In Northern Ireland, and the UK, people can apply to vote by proxy (i.e. appoint someone to vote on their behalf) if they are going to be at work, away or have some other reason that prevents them from getting to their polling station.

The number of proxy votes applied for in Foyle, in 2017 was about 300% higher than the 2015 general election figure, roughly equivalent to 1,000 extra votes. Remember the winning margin was 169 votes.

Not only that, but the distribution of these extra proxy votes was not exactly even across the constituency. They were concentrated in specific areas, with some of these having a proxy vote rate more than 17 times the UK average.

It is a reminder that a well-intentioned scheme to encourage greater participation can be abused by unscrupulous individuals and outfits.

#HomeToVote was too iconic to be allowed fall into the same hands. It has done its job, now it should be let slip into retirement.

But the cause of increasing voter participation should not be allowed slip away with it. This is yet another reason why we need the immediate establishment of the independent Electoral Commission promised back in February 2011.

It is well past time we took the electoral process more seriously by giving it the resources it deserves and stop leaving it up to a few over stretched officials scattered across the councils.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Top pic: Twitter


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69 thoughts on “Derek Mooney: Time To Retire #HomeToVote?

  1. Twunt

    FFers don’t like the young uns, and the uns forced to leave, coming back to vote, because they sure as hell aren’t voting FF.

    1. Junkface

      Exactly. If it wasn’t for more open minded people coming home to vote on important issues, as well as the people who live here, then who knows if Ireland would have moved on at all from the FF, FG, Catholic church stanglehold. The government should allow its ex pats to vote from abroad in their embassies, like other countries do.

      1. george

        Looking at the numbers in the last two referenda mentioned they would both certainly have passed by significant margins without anyone returning to vote.

        1. Junkface

          Yes we know that now, but before the actual votes happen the impact of seeing Irish people returning home from all over the world to exercise their democratic rights cannot be underestimated. It affects the general thinking of the country, about where we want to be in the future.

        2. Sheik Yahbouti

          True, but the young people returning are sooo welcome – and I say this as an older person, constantly villified on this forum for ‘conservative’ voting. De effin presumption!

        3. Rob_G

          What if either of the referendums had been lost, and the deciding factor was voters coming back from England… but old conservative people who Ireland decades ago, rather than young people that you agree with – how would you feel about people living abroad playing fast and loose with Ireland’s electoral laws then?

    2. Pat Harding

      Keep coming home to vote and destroy Fianna Fail once and for all. A plague on our nation since the 1920’s!

  2. RF

    the whole thing was completely illegal and ridiculous.

    i live abroad for about 10 years and when i got home (for a separate reason) my da told me there was a polling card there for me. in the uk my flatmate moved out at xmas and they had him off the local register within a few months.

    if we need to have a national debate about the voting rights of ex-pats (and we probably do) then so be it, but as it stands it seems thousands of people were voting illegally.

    i’m glad the result was a resounding yes, i would have voted yes myself, but it disturbed me to see people voting illegally – if it had been close i wondered if the result could have been challenged. either way, it has to be bigger than ‘the end justifies the means’ – personally i can’t just say it’s okay simply because the people voting illegally were voting for the outcome i supported.

    beyond that, it was extremely common that my friends living in ireland had two or three polling cards between old and new addresses etc – it’s clear the whole system needs reform.

    1. rotide

      Agree with this.

      The #hometovote thing was universally lauded around here mostly because they were voting yes both times.

      If they were coming home to vote for FG or FF, I could only guess the reception it would recieve.

      Regardless of what way they are voting and on what, There’s a whiff of illegality about it

      1. Geansai

        Who on earth would come home to vote from abroad for FF or FG though?
        Actually, who would even come home to vote in a general election at all?
        While I agree that voter registration and administration needs reform and it’s certainly high time for an Electoral Commission, I think the piece misses the point that the referendums in question involved people travelling to repeal what they saw as infringements on the civil and human rights of Irish citizens.

        1. rotide

          yes but that doesn’t make it any less shady. if you Rob a bank to pay for an operation for your sick mother, you’re still committing a crime

          1. Brother Barnabas

            jesus christ, rotide, we’re talking about the chap’s mother – the woman who gave birth to him, nurtured and reared him

            have some fupping heart, will you?

  3. b

    Clean up the electoral register and enforce the rules, anything less is a threat to democracy working properly

    Its not good enough to just turn a blind eye to it because they were mostly voting Yes.

    1. Cian

      Agreed. There should be a process whereby each time you more house you need to register the move with a central agency – and this automatically updates the register.

      1. Daisy Chainsaw

        There is nothing illegal about being registered in every single constituency in Ireland. It’s only illegal to vote more than once. If you’re in college in Dublin, but otherwise living at home in Kerry, why shouldn’t you be registered in both places to ensure you get to exercise your democratic vote?

        The last few referenda were held on Fridays which gave commuters a choice. I remember elections being held on Thursdays and even a referendum being held on a Wednesday!

        1. Cian

          I didn’t know that – thanks.
          Do they cross-check the various registers-paper-things[1] (after the vote) to ensure there isn’t any double-voting?

          [1] the print-out with your name that they cross-off when you actually vote.

  4. steve white

    lets make home to vote official, at least for referendums extend the time you can be away, as it and return for this long term constitutional change which might impact you if and when you do return.

    1. johnny

      why is it not a surprise that YOU would agree !
      -Foyle-his vote dropped by 6,000
      -turnout up 10%
      -the comparison is in another jurisdiction FFS
      -the book quote is from a to be read book..
      shameful stuff,doubt the BelTel would even print it,underminig an election with innuendo wow, how low will FF go…

      1. Clampers Outside!

        Meh…. I’ll see your example, and raise it with 4 more examples… :)

        ” But throughout Irish history, there have been several examples of Dáil seats, even political careers, being decided by the ballot papers of fewer people than you could fit around a table in the Dáil bar.

        Last time, Independent candidate Catherine Connolly lost out on the final seat in Galway West by just 17 votes and after a four-day recount.

        Three Dáil seats in the last 35 years have been won by five votes.

        In 1982, Fianna Fáil’s Dan Wallace was edged out by his party colleague Seán French after 11 counts in Cork North-Central.
        In 1987, Tánaiste and Labour leader Dick Spring held on to his seat in Kerry North by just five votes, after six counts and a full recount, defeating Fianna Fáil’s Tom McEllistrim. Five years later, he led the party to its most successful election ever, and became Tánaiste again.
        In 1989, former Louth Gaelic footballer Jimmy Mulroy lost out to future Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, by just five votes.”

        1. Willie Banjo

          That doesn’t answer anything. And Derek is warning against returning to vote because….oh yeah, proxy votes which don’t exist here. But what does exist here and in Foyle is Shinners. And as we know neither Derek nor you like Shinners.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            It does regarding his point on narrow margin results.

            So what if I dont like the party that released paedos and rapists from their kangaroo courts. What of it? Got nothing to do with the point of wins by narrow margins.

          2. SOQ

            Home to vote is the direct opposite of proxy voting clamps, Derek is getting confused in his old age.

            I have absolutely no problem with people coming home and no issue with others paying because if they all feel so strongly then good for them. Especially if the anti choice SDLP get a wake up call once it goes to a similar vote up north.

            And it will. And then equal marriage. As will anything else that shakes the northern tribal tree to the point where there is nothing left to fight or march over.

            Populism is good.

  5. johnny

    great point,eh well played,listen im sorry the irish education system let you down so badly.

      1. Johnny

        The point is you’ve none,never have!
        Ok I will briefly stoop to you level and indulge you-please explain how the examples from you are relevant to the topic of voter fraud ?
        Two choices-clampers/Mooney’s Ireland off paranoid bitter old men or anything else please and soon !

          1. johnny

            is that why he used the recent one as a example,duh !
            you appear fond of analogies from the beautiful game,so stop trying move the goalposts and grow a pair,or stay off the tread,no doubt you will bombard all the others with similar nonsensical rubbish.
            its about voter fraud-address it using YOUR examples that you posted !

          2. Johnny

            As someone who interacts daily on a volunteer basis with survivors of childhood trauma,including abuse,I find you constantly invoking ”paedos”,in a attempt to score cheap points in a argument,revolting,unpalatable, distasteful, foul and nasty.
            Give a f***ing rest loser.

          3. Clampers Outside!

            Seeing as you are working with those so unfortunate, why would you support a party that protected itself by releasing them on the public…. jaaaaysus…. wake up you buffoon!

          4. Clampers Outside!

            I am genuinely stunned that you pulled that line Johnny…… stunned at your wilful ignorance to make a point to protect a despicable truth that is already known of SF….. go away will ya.

          5. johnny

            “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
            I should take Twains advice more often,which village are you missing from ?

          6. SOQ

            Clampers, why were you so silent during the abortion debates on bs? Also you disappeared during equal marriage if memory serves me.

          7. Clampers Outside!

            I was very active during equal marriage ref.

            I had my mind made up to vote ‘yes’ on abortion. I even stated I wanted 21 weeks on a few occasions.

            But yes, I was quiet on abortion compared to other times, largely due to not being at a computer regular as usual, and my getting married to a wonderful woman mid-April :)

  6. Ben Redmond

    No taxation without misrepresentation is a useful axiom. If you pay taxes in Eire you should have a vote in local and general elections. If you pay taxes as a fulltime resident in another state, you should have a similar vote in that state. (Except China, Saudia Arabia and other states where they don’t have elections.) If you are a citizen of Ireland, whether resident in the state or residing and taxpaying elsewhere, you might be given the right to a postal vote for constitutional referendums and presidential elections (whenever the polity allows the latter to happen).

    1. Willie Banjo

      What about stay at home mothers? No vote? Retired people? no vote? The unemployed? Students? Not everybody pays taxes.

        1. SOQ

          Clampers, why were you so silent during the abortion debates on bs? Also you disappeared during equal marriage if memory serves me.

      1. Ben Redmond

        @ W B: Stay-at-home mothers are singled out currently in the Irish constitution as rendering a great service to the common good. If they and students and unemployed persons are citizens living in Eire they should have a vote – there has been general franchise since 1918 irrespective of socio-economic status. If they are unemployed or retired citizens living abroad they might get a postal vote for presidential and constitutional outings. That depends on the legislative will or absence of will of current elected power brokers here.

  7. Bob

    How about compulsory turnout like Australia?
    You need to at least show up or give a reason why you can’t.

  8. Ben Redmond

    @ W B: Stay-at-home mothers are singled out currently in the Irish constitution as rendering a great service to the common good. If they and students and unemployed persons are citizens living in Eire they should have a vote – there has been general franchise since 1918 irrespective of socio-economic status. If they are unemployed or retired citizens living abroad they might get a postal vote for presidential and constitutional outings. That depends on the legislative will or absence of will of current elected power brokers here.

    1. Cu Cullan

      Just listening to the Pouges Thousands are sailing.. the truth is that the diaspora are part of our collective experience of being Irish. Born in Ireland should give an automatic vote for ever in referendums. Probably 5 years after you emigrated.. unless you’re paying tax in which case you’re in for the duration.

  9. Anomanomanom

    It should be very simple, if you don’t live here you shouldn’t be allowed to vote. I understand people left to work and intended to come back some day,but intentions are not always followed threw. And people should be able to have a say on things that effect the country I live in, especially when they might never come back here to live.

      1. johnny

        -not everyone gets that choice,some work requires international travel and experience,for example a member of the clergy who may have possibly strong opinions,but is posted to Rome-is disenfranchised!
        -someone from UCD/Queens working on EIRSAT-1 (Irelands FIRST yeah satellite) is required work temporiarly in Belfast or Houston for experience-again loses their right to vote ?
        Dan Boyle (quelle surprise) had a much better piece on the issue of “Jus soli” otherwise know as the 27th amendment or birthrights.

        1. Cian

          according to citizensinformation there is a Postal voters list. So your example people above could use this:
          You may also be eligible for a postal vote if you cannot go to a polling station because:
          •You have a physical illness or disability
          •You are studying full time at an educational institution in Ireland, which is away from your home address where you are registered
          •You are unable to vote at your polling station because of your occupation, service or employment

          1. johnny

            Hi Cian-its a bigger discussion and I’d rather not dignify,nor draw attention to the outrageous comments,by the resident idiot who appears permanently parked online here,with little or no other pursuits or interests other than “paedos” and the RA,its pathological(can we have a godwins type law)-oh look there’s a post on buses-in the 1980’s the RA hijacked a bus in Belfast and Mary Lou said it was the…………
            But Dan’s point which he made very well isn’t going away…

          2. Anomanomanom

            Who the hell is always on here talking about paedophiles and ira? I’d actually love to know.

  10. bisted

    …time to retire…that part of your analysis is what this vote is telling you Derek…your day and that of those backwoods FFers is over…I suspect though, you just don’t get that the old certainties are gone…

  11. Ron Dolan

    Whatever about local, general, European and presidential elections, as an Irish citizen who most likely is not gone forever, there should be the facility to vote on referendums from abroad or at the very least, relax the rules on residency, although maybe also allow in the case of presidential elections.

  12. A_Reasonable_Proposal

    If a card carrying citizen, one should get an opportunity to vote in any referendum. It seems like a basic right to afford someone as a citizen.

    That’s not in any way unreasonable and totally sidesteps the pandering whatiffery and scare mongering thought-experiment examples of small constituency majorities in the piece.

  13. italia'90

    “How would we feel about a #HomeToVote operation in a constituency where party X only held its seat by a dozen or so votes, or where party Y was just a handful of votes short of the final seat the last time out?”
    Great idea Derek.
    We’re devising a campaign for selected constituencies where FF TD’s can be ousted.


    We’ll target the FF Dublin TD’s first, then the weaker ones like in Wicklow/Kildare/Louth etc Cork North-West/Kerry/Tipperary & Ulster-Connacht where 6 FF TD’s look vulnerable.

  14. Sheik Yahbouti

    What’s your point, Derek? The Civil war parties don’t like this development? Change might come from it? I will cease here lest I become abusive. :-/

  15. steve white

    when does giving a lift to someone become an inducement to vote?

    “Section 135 of the above mentioned 1992 Electoral Act sets out what constitutes bribery at an election, specifically a Dáil election”

    no referendum version of that?

Comments are closed.

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