28 August 1997 Edition

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Electoral registration vital

Hundreds of votes lost in West Tyrone

By Mick Naughton.

In the last Westminster election, the failure of hundreds of nationalists to register in the new constituency of West Tyrone helped a Unionist take the seat.

This was revealed at a press conference at which Sinn Féin's Six County Director of Elections Dodie McGuinness urged all nationalists to complete and return their electoral registration forms currently awaiting collection from electoral office staff.

This, she stressed, will avoid anyone being removed from the electoral register, something which was a feature in the two election campaigns Sinn Féin fought last May. Then, potential voters who arrived at Sinn Féin offices on election day after they had been turned away from polling stations complained about being taken off the register, but had not checked prior to the actual polling day. That, coupled with not having valid identification, probably prevented Sinn Féin from increasing their tally of elected representatives.

Another feature highlighted by Omagh Sinn Féin councillor Francie Mackey is the possibility of another election or referendum appearing next year after May 98.

Mackey said that a good example of nationalists losing out was the recent West Tyrone Westminister election. The constituency has a nationalist majority, yet is represented by a Unionist MP. On polling day many voters came to Sinn Féin election headquarters puzzled that they were not on the register. Hundreds of votes were lost in this new seat

``For whatever reason hundreds of people had either not filled in the form or checked earlier at their local Sinn Féin office or public library that they were actually registered to vote.''

Electoral officers will knocking on every door in the Six Counties to collect completed forms between 25 August and 27 September ``You only have to state that you were present at the address on the one specific date in September, the 15th, so nobody should be worried on this account,'' Dodie McGuinness said. ``Handing back the form also avoids further work and inconvenience to have people included on the register at a later date.

``Anyone who needs assistance or advice in completing a form should immediately contact their local Sinn Féin representative as the importance of this exercise cannot be over-emphasised. Nationalists face enough obstacles in relation to exercising their democratic right to vote within this Six County statelet. They shouldn't make that task more difficult.''

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