Unsound legislation and unsafe procedures surrounding the manner in which BID plebiscite was conducted

25th July 2017

No to BID Campaign Vows to Continue their Campaign to Stand-Down BID Scheme

Calls on Gardaí to Investigate Vote

The No to BID Campaign group, formed to campaign against the renewal of the Dublin BID scheme, have announced that they will continue their campaign. The announcement comes in the wake of the narrow vote among city centre businesses on the renewal of the Dublin BID scheme for another five years. The No to BID group have renewed their mandate to ramp up their campaign following a huge 50% increase on the No vote from 2012.

A statement from No to BID spokesperson Kim Condon raised some of the concerns that arose during the campaign and during the election count on the 17th July; ‘’We also have extremely grave concerns about the unsound legislation and unsafe procedures surrounding the manner in which the plebiscite was conducted. A senior official in Dublin City Council admitted opening the ballot box and placing a large number of envelopes inside. We have written to An Garda Síochana asking them to investigate this incident. The No to BID Campaign will continue to campaign for transparency, accountability and corporate governance.’’

Ms Condon went on to say that the group will continue its campaign to disband Dublin BID; ‘’Following a meeting yesterday, the No to BID Campaign came to a unanimous decision to continue the campaign to disband the Dublin BID scheme and the private company DublinTown. We would like to thank all of the businesses for their continued support for the campaign to end the BID. We will represent the best interests of the city centre business community going forward.’’

The vote to disband the Dublin BID was held among certain business (double) ratepayers in the city centre. After a divisive campaign, the Yes vote has seen a collapse in its support with 843 business voting yes, compared to almost 1,100 in 2012 or a drop of over 20%. The No vote has seen its share surge from 511 in 2012 to 715 in 2017, an increase of almost 50%

The No to BID Campaign represents over 700 small and medium sized businesses. The No campaign had wide support, including the Restaurants Association of Ireland, the Irish Hotels Federation, the Irish Hairdressers Federation and the Irish Newsagents and Convenience Stores Association.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor:

Attached is Joe McCarthy’s note, an independent observer at the count on July 17th.  His note provides detail on the No to BID Campaign’s concerns over the voting and counting procedures.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

BID Plebiscite Count

City Hall

Monday 17th July 2017

I attended the City Hall count as an observer by permission of the Returning Officer, Deirdre Ní Raghallaigh.

I have many years of experience attending at counts in Ireland since 1987 acting as a tallyman and as an election agent.  I have also attended as representative at recounts of local, national and European elections.

This count was like no other count I have attended.

The plebiscite was conducted under S.I. No. 166 of 2007 titled 

Local Government (Business Improvement Districts Ratepayer Plebiscite) Regulations 2007.

Article 5 of these regulations states the returning officer shall be responsible for the proper administration of the plebiscite.  No further guidance is given as to the conduct of the count.

Regulations provide for preparation of the electoral roll, the issue of ballot papers and their return by post.

The most unusual aspect of this plebiscite is that the ballot papers must be signed by the voter. 

Notably there are no regulations for the receipt and accounting of the ballot papers other than to place them “immediately” in a ballot box.

My observations:

There were just two ballot boxes each closed with a simple lock.  They were not sealed.

When opened it was clear that they contained bundles of envelopes which had been collected together and deposited in the boxes directly and not through the slot in the lid of the box.

There were several A4 envelopes including a Jiffy bag containing ballot envelopes. 

There was one bundle of envelopes some 3 cm thick, nicely squared off and held by an elastic band. 

When the RO was asked how these bundles came to be in the box she explained that the boxes were kept in the Chief Executive’s office, that the keys were also kept there and that she opened the box to place the bundles of votes therein and relocked the box. 

After the envelopes were opened to take out the ballots the RO announced that there were some superfluous papers:

167 cover letters

some compliment slips

5 items of poll literature from the NO campaign

2 housing applications

There was no declaration of a count of envelopes. 

Later she announced there were 3 additional letters and one forged ballot.

The ballots were placed in sequential order and compared to the electoral roll.

The observers present could only observe from a distance.  No scrutiny was possible.

It was announced that were 25 spoiled votes though this could not be confirmed. 

The result of the poll was declared as follows:

The RO stated that the Poll was 1,583 excluding 5 duplicates

Spoiled 25

Valid poll 1,558

Yes 843

No 715

The BID proposal was declared carried.

Comments:

This was like no other count I have attended.

Normal count procedures and safeguards were absent. 

The RO did not describe her actions per Article 12 which requires her to close, endorse and sign any non-standard envelopes received.  There were clearly at least three such envelopes.

There was no reconciliation of the individual ballot boxes.

There was no description of the chain of custody of the boxes.

They were not sealed at the beginning of the poll. It is not known how they were secured during the poll to be formally opened after the poll closed. 

A great show was made of opening the lock in the presence of the Lord Mayor. However the irony was missed in that a lock is not a seal. 

The norm is to use ribbon and red sealing wax as will be confirmed by any experienced presiding officer or returning officer. 

Boxes were not enumerated.

It is understood that one box was placed at Reception in Civic Offices.

All in all it was a novel experience. 

I could not have trust in this poll. 

No external scrutiny was possible. 

However the count was conducted in line with the Regulations for the holding of the ratepayer plebiscite. 

These Regulations are poorly drafted and lack the normal well understood procedures for holding trustworthy polls. 

Joe McCarthy 

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