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Election records

Election records come in various forms. Registers of freeholders list the names and addresses of individuals entitled to vote at parliamentary elections. Poll books (often in printed form before the Ballot Act of 1872) list the names of voters and the candidates they voted for. Occasionally registers include annotations such as ‘gone to America’ or ‘married a papist’.

It is important to appreciate the limitations of these records. Until the late nineteenth century the qualification for voting was generally linked to the tenure of land, and only a small minority of men had the right to vote. In Ireland, from 1727 to 1793, only Protestant men with a 40-shilling freehold had the right to vote. Between 1793 and 1829 both Protestants and Roman Catholics with 40-shilling freeholds had votes, although a Catholic still could not become a member of parliament. The 40-shilling freehold was property worth 40 shillings a year above the rent, and either owned outright or leased during the lives of named individuals. Many important and indeed prominent people had no vote because they leased their property on the wrong terms. One distinctive feature of the county franchise in Ireland was that from 1728 onwards voters had to conform to an increasingly tight system of registration, designed to prevent electoral fraud.

These records reproduced with kind permission of Deputy Keeper of Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.