Robert Dunne argues that Student Unions must make sure that students know about postal voting if the referendum on gay marriage is to pass.
Recently Labour’s Equality Minister, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, stated that the referendum on marriage equality could be defeated if the Yes side did not promote the referendum, proclaiming that: "If the vote were held next week - we would lose it. We need an all-out campaign and complacency is among our biggest problems."
Almost fifty percent of people aged 18-25 are not registered to vote, and even fewer vote in elections. Meanwhile, those aged 55-65+ are the largest voting demographic, sometimes with a record of over eighty percent of them turning out to vote at elections. So while some polls may report high numbers of people voting in favour of gay marriage, these results are skewed based on voting registration and voter turn out.
Another issue for concern is that this referendum is being held at a time when discontentment with the current Government is at an all time high. The faces of party politicians are likely to deter some voters. For this reason it is plausible that some sections of the electorate could view this referendum as an opportunity to voice discontentment with the Government by voting no. Also due to the results of the McKenna case RTE will be desperate to portray this referendum as one with two equally valid sides.
For this reason, it’s crucial to ensure that as many people who will vote yes cast their ballots.
For those students who are registered to vote, voting habits are often circumstantial. Most students will only vote if it’s convenient, meaning that if an election is on weekday they will only vote if they can make it to the local polling station.
The Government has decided to host the referendum on the 22nd of May. For this reason it is essential that students know about postal voting, so that those who can’t make it home for the weekend will be able to vote.
Postal voting is when one can’t make it to the polling station and casts their vote in advance by posting their ballot. Normally one requires a special set of circumstances in order to cast their ballot by post, fortunately being unable to make it to the polling station due to third level education requirements is an acceptable set of circumstances.
Application forms can be obtained from the local authority and you must apply at least 22 days before polling day.
The USI has tried to put pressure on the Government to change the date of the referendum but there is absolutely no guarantee that the time of referendum will be changed. In the past year, the Students' Unions all across the country have registered students to vote. If the referendum is to pass there must be a very strong effort to ensure that everyone who can vote do vote - be it a postal vote or one cast at the ballot.
Ralph Nader said that, “if you aren’t turned onto politics, politics will turn on you,” in this incident the price of student apathy could be an important civil rights issue being pushed back many years.
Ireland has lagged behind the rest of the western world on important civil liberties, be it on freedom of the press or to have contraception. Students' Unions can’t afford to let this slip- it is dangerous to just presume that this will pass, we must presume nothing.
Photos: Kevin Goebel/ Flickr