Voting is underway in the North of Ireland in the twice-delayed election to the Belfast Assembly, but some voters have been turned away from the polls, according to reports.

Ballot boxes were delivered to polling stations across the north last night ahead of today's election, which will give the electorate the chance to have a direct say in the future of devolution and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Polling began at 7 am and continues until 10pm. All parties are encouraging their supporters to vote early in order to avoid queues later in the evening over a bureaucratic new system of voter identification.

Voters are required to present either: a senior citizen's travel pass; a passport; a driver's licence; or an electoral identification card.

It is thought that some 30,000 voters could be disenfranchised today because of the new system, particularly young people and the disadvantaged, who are unlikely to possess the required identification.

This has added to the 180,000 already removed from the electoral register by registration requirements introduced last year, including the provision of a social identification number as well as other personal details.

Sinn Fein Director of Elections Danny Power has said that he has been receiving a large number of complaints from across the six counties about the volume of people being disenfranchised and at the general manner in which the election is being conducted.

From early this morning complaints have been coming into our election headquarters from constituencies across the six counties,'' Mr Power said. ``These have related to polling stations not opening on time, voter codes being written onto ballot papers and elderly people not being allowed assistance from close relatives to vote.

``More worrying however has been the steady stream of complaints from people who have applied for voter ID and have not received their cards. This is having the effect of wholesale disenfranchisement especially when taken with the massive numbers of people whom the electoral office have already excluded from the register.

``After this election all aspects of the current legislation will have to be examined and amended. The performance of the Electoral Office also needs to be investigated. Confidence in its ability to carry out its most basic functions is rapidly draining.''

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP cast his vote at 10am this morning at the polling station in St Teresa's Primary School on the Glen Road in West Belfast this morning.

Speaking afterwards Mr Adams urged everyone to get out and vote and to vote as early as possible to avoid delays.

``It is vital that people come out today and use their vote,'' Mr Adams said. ``This is a crucial election for the peace process. A vote for Sinn Fein today will strengthen the hand of our negotiators in advancing the process of change, in the transformation of our society and the achievement of an Ireland of Equals.

``I want to appeal to all voters in this election to vote for Sinn Fein and to transfer to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein has been and continues to be the dynamic for change. We deliver. A vote for Sinn Fein will deliver maximum change. A vote for Sinn Fein is the most effective response to the opponents of change.''

If people require assistance getting to the polling stations then they should contact their local Sinn Fein office to arrange transport,'' Mr Adams added.

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