Electoral Commission reveals voting shambles

December 4, 2012

By Christine Keighery

A report by the Electoral Commission has revealed that a staggering 400,000 people in Northern Ireland are not listed at their correct address in the voting list.

The report also found that the accuracy of the register had dropped from 94%  to 78% in the last four years, with an estimated one in five entries deemed inaccurate.

The Electoral Commissioner, Anna Carragher, has warned that the alarming findings could have far-reaching consequences for both participation in and public confidence in elections in Northern Ireland. She has recommended a comprehensive action plan to begin in early 2013, which includes contact with every household in Northern Ireland, to verify and update entries on the register and to identify new registrants.

The report found that not all those eligible to vote have been added to the register. The old are more likely to be registered than under 25’s, and homeowners are more likely to get a vote than tenants. It also found that people who no longer reside in Northern Ireland or are deceased have not always been removed.

The register has therefore been “inflated” by inaccurate entries, despite the fact that many people entitled to vote are not on it.

The report has now recommended a change in electoral law so that, in addition to individuals, households can also be asked to update their registration details.  A review of current data matching arrangements has also been called for as well as a performance standards framework so that the chief electoral officer’s performance can be measured against independent standards

Ms Carragher said: “It is essential that this programme of work gets under way well ahead of the European Parliamentary election and possible local government elections in 2014.”

Sinn Fein MP, Conor Murphy, welcomed the Electoral Commission’s report  and revealed that his party had raised concerns about the current legislation surrounding the register, back in 2002, only to have them dismissed by the electoral authorities and other political parties.

“What is required from the Electoral Office are solutions to this serious problem. That means making it easier to get onto the register, involving the councils in the registration process and the political parties who have a vested interest and looking at online registration,” said Mr Murphy.

“Automatically placing new voters onto the register would also seem a sensible way to proceed.

“We would propose that a wide consultation is carried out by the EONI and the EC similar to the “on-the-road” consultations carried out by Boundary Commissioner to seek the views of the public and the political parties on the entirety of the registration and voting process.

Mr Murphy added that, while he welcomed the report, he feels it is far from complete.

He questioned why there is no comment within the report on the use of flawed Election Register Data to create a base source for new electoral boundaries and also highlighted that no information is provided with regard to the geographic or electoral area distribution on the level of accuracy or completeness of the register.

“The report does not highlight the inadequate role of some of the Electoral Office staff or the siting of some of their offices in facilitating the registration process.  There is also no examination and use of the 2011 census.

“Sinn Féin will seek meetings with both the Electoral Commission and the Chief Electoral Officer in the coming period to discuss the findings of the report but more importantly will be placing effective new measures in place to rectify the problem and get the register fit for purpose.”