16 October 2003 Edition

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Electoral Office "forgets" Poleglass and fails to deliver ID cards

The Six-County electoral office has admitted that thousands of voters in the nationalist Poleglass Estate of Belfast were "overlooked" during its recent voter registration drive, and thousands more will not have the photographic identification required to claim their vote.

Canvassers from the office were due to deliver forms to every household in the North between 1 September 1 and 4 October, with the completed forms being collected and returned for processing between 7 September and 11 October. Instead, the office says it had problems with the delivery of the forms to the Poleglass area and that officers had to be sent in last week in a desperate bid to get the job done only hours before the cut-off date.

"There was some difficulty in that area," says an Electoral Office spokesperson, "but forms will still be collected within the deadline of October 11. The form is relatively simple to fill out and people often complete it on their doorstep."

But Sinn Féin's Michael Ferguson said the oversight could further disenfranchise nationalist voters.

"The Electoral Office have a legislative responsibility to ensure that people get their vote," said Ferguson. "Last year showed that there was an effective disenfranchisement of the nationalist community. I believe that this too, is an act of disenfranchisement and the Electoral Office has in this instance, fallen down on the job with serious consequences."

The recently overhauled registration process and new voter identification requirements have left many people confused and frustrated, and could potentially exclude thousands of qualified voters come election day. A recent Electoral Commission report states that over 38,000 people who appear on the register do not have the necessary photographic identification required to claim their vote.

Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty says public concerns over the process have been further exacerbated by the Electoral Office's ineffectiveness.

"It now seems that not only will many thousands of potential voters be disenfranchised because they have been removed from the electoral register, but another large body of people who are registered will also be denied their right to vote because of the narrow band of identification deemed acceptable," he said.

And now that the speculated date for the election is waning once again, the entire process appears to be just another moving goalpost of unrealised promises by the British state.

An Phoblacht
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