Voting In Ireland: An Expat’s Guide To Elections and Local Politics

For many immigrants the ability to vote is a personal symbol that they’ve “made it” and been accepted in their new home, or are considered to be a responsible member of society, capable of making decisions about the social direction of the country, county, state, and/or city they’ve chosen to call home. But what exactly does the right to vote signify? Are voting rights truly a symbol of responsibility, or just an arbitrary designation?

Here in Ireland there’s an important referendum coming up on marriage equality. But, because we are not yet citizens, my wife and I cannot vote. While I do feel a bit cheated by not being able to help friends obtain their rights to something that, in my mind, shouldn’t even be up for debate, I understand why I’m not allowed to vote.

To me, it makes sense that voting rights not be handed out like frozen pizza tasters. Until someone proves that they’ve made a genuine commitment to a place they should not be allowed to influence the bureaucratic direction, or moral compass of that place. But, how long is long enough, and what constitutes “proof” of commitment?

In Ireland I can apply for citizenship after five years of continuous residence. But, I have to ask, why 60 months? Why not 80, or 120? Should property ownership be the benchmark for local commitment? If we go that route, then only the wealthiest of immigrants will be entitled to vote. Good luck ensuring a fair wage and working conditions.

I’m happy that in a little over a year I’ll be eligible to apply for citizenship, and will be able to start participating in the system, but I’m not sure I’m worthy. I talk a good game about wanting to stay. But, I can envision situations where I might leave. I don’t want to leave Ireland, but older family members may need us, or economic conditions may necessitate relocation.

By contrast I can’t envision practical circumstances under which I’d renounce my citizenship and voting rights in the U.S. But, believe me when I tell you, that’s not due to my unwavering patriotism. It’s purely practical, and out of lifelong participation in shaping the direction of the U.S.

Next to that where does my five years in Ireland fit? At this point I’m torn. I really love this place and want to commit to it in the way that seems most meaningful – by voting and fully participating in the system. But I’m not sure that 5 years is enough.

The hoops one must jump through, and adapting to a new system (or systems) of elections and voter registration, are yet more things added to the immigrant’s list of social adjustments. But, in a strange twist of circumstances, these may be both the most important and the most arbitrary items on that list.

As with so many things, the voting rights conundrum is one for which I have no answer. I continue to struggle with what is “right”, and whether or not I’ll be worthy when the time comes for me to step into the polling booth.

Glenn K.
Dublin, May 2015

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

Water Rights (Yeah, right)

Finding the “Right” City For You


About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
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3 Responses to Voting In Ireland: An Expat’s Guide To Elections and Local Politics

  1. Thomas says:

    I’m sure duel citizenship is an option between Ireland and America. As your no doubt aware of it’s an Irish and EU passport which lets you reside/work/retire/buy property/welfare in up to 30 European countries and avail of public healthcare facilities. Why remortgage your house in America if you can receive a public health service for a fraction of the cost in 20/25 years time in Ireland/Sweden/Germany etc. If your only 10 or 12 months short of the 5 year residency rule I’d go for it, but then again I’m not you!
    You mentioned in one of your previous posts that your partner works in Academic’s. Many mainland European universities especially northern European have over the last 10/12 years have offered degree/post grad/PHD courses exclusively through English.
    If your interested in living on the mainland it’s something you and your partner could look into, for example the Dutch speak English without blinking an eyelid and in my experience their mentality is closest to a native anglophone speaker.

    Have a look at this web-link

  2. Joe says:

    Hi Glenn,

    I’m an Irish-born Irish citizen who hasn’t voted lately due to a combination of vagabond lifestyle and non-enthusiasm regarding the political choices on offer. however I do have close friends who are (a) Australian and living here for several decades (entitled to vote here though not an Irish citizen) and (b) born here but resident in Canada with an Irish holiday home (entitled to vote in both countries if in residence at the time of polling).

    Friend (a) votes here enthusiastically on Irish issues at every opportunity – in Oz they fine you for expressing apathy through not voting. Friend (b) votes in both countries as the opportunity arises but bitches like hell that he can’t cast his Irish ballots by post from Canada.

    From (a) I gather you don’t have to be an Irish citizen to vote here – just reside for a certain period and have a provable Irish address.
    Re (b) I think he’s perfectly entitled to vote when actually in the country, albeit only occasionally. However I also think postal voting for ex-pats is only a good idea where, as with the US, the bulk of such ex-pats are abroad for a purpose directly assisting their home country (e.g. diplomatic corps, armed services, corporate occupation) and where the proportion of voters outside the home country is insignificant relative to that still “at home”.

    In Ireland’s case neither of those conditions apply. The Irish diaspora is famously far-flung, locally coherent and loosely self-defined. It also, in almost any probable definition, equals or outnumbers the number of active voters living in Ireland. Nearly all Irish ex-pats are abroad to further their own careers, and good luck to them, but that puts them in the position of being able to prescribe for the homeland without having to live with the consequences. If the diaspora could have voted over the past couple of decades we’d probably have a Sinn Fein majority government by now and be well on the way to securing an additional 1.5 million subsidy junkies from the Six Counties – wouldn’t that be lovely for 2016!

    • Joe,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Good points.

      But, unless I’m mistaken, in Ireland you can’t vote in national elections (only local) if tou are a resident and not a “citizen”.

      I could well be wrong, but that’s my understanding.


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