11 December 2003 Edition
Electoral process excludes deprived
A report released this week by the Electoral Commission to assess the operation of the new Electoral Fraud Act says that "disadvantaged groups" are less likely to have eligible identification required to vote in Six County elections. The report also reveals that there were approximately 120,000 fewer names on the new electoral register than the old register, compiled under the previous "household" system.
While the current register shows that rural areas continue to have the highest rates of voter registration, it indicates that the largest decline occurred in the Belfast constituencies. It also implies a clear correlation between deprivation and percentage decline on the register at ward level.
The report concludes that the Electoral Office should ensure that all registration forms are made more widely accessible to the electorate, including allowing voters to download the forms online.
An Phoblacht has learned of several incidents where longtime voters were unable to exercise their right to vote on election day, without any apathy or negligence on their part.
One woman said that when an Electoral Officer appeared at her front door prior to the recent election, she informed him she had to vote by post due to her limited mobility. The officer reassured her that he would see she was sent the relevant ballot, but none arrived.
Another Belfast couple were livid after they were turned away from their local polling station because they did not have the required photographic identification. Although they had applied for electoral ID cards when they registered with an electoral officer at their door well before the registration deadline, the cards were nowhere to be found come polling day. Despite being listed on previous registers for more than 30 years at the same address, the couple were not premitted to vote
Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness said that it was "very obvious to anyone involved in the recent election campaign that the current system is deeply flawed".
He is seeking a meeting with the Electoral Commission to discuss the many problems encountered during the campaign. "These problems, be they registration or ID, can be directly traced to the SDLP and unionist sponsored legislation under which the register was complied and the election fought," he said.
"This legislation was designed to have the effect of removing voters in disadvantaged areas form the register and was designed to target the Sinn Féin electorate. This legislation needs to be amended.
"The Electoral Commission have a duty to ensure that the public have confidence in the electoral process. With so many people being disenfranchised under the new legislation and many other being denied their vote because of the problems over ID they clearly have much work to do.
"We need to hear concrete proposals from the Commission about how they are going to tackle these problems. An acknowledgement that there is a problem is not enough."