Irish Republican News · January 19, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Young voters fare worst in new registration system

One person in six was prevented from voting in November's crucial Assembly elections in the North, it has emerged.

The voters were either removed from the electoral register or failed to claim their vote under strict new electoral laws.

In some areas, almost 90 per cent of potential first-time voters were not entered on the register. Almost 58,000 new voters across the North failed to register and were unable to vote on polling day.

The massive drop in younger voters mainly affects nationalist electoral districts.

The overall figure of those eligible to vote, but who failed to re-register under the Electoral Fraud Act, is to be announced by the Electoral Office next month. It is thought that almost 200,000 people eligible to vote were unable to do so because their names did not appear on the official register, or because they did not have proper ID as specified under the new legislation.

The Act, introduced in 2002, forces voters to reclaim their vote every year, and has introduced stringent new measures governing acceptable voter identification.

The figures were pooled from the North's most recent census and the official register.

In some areas, there was no increase in new voters in 2003, despite warnings from all the parties that a significant section of the electorate was at risk of being disenfranchised.

In the nationalist South Down constituency, 64.2 per cent of potential first-time voters did not claim their right to vote.

In some wards, no first-time voters appear on the register. The alarming slump in new voters will have a huge impact on the European elections in June.

The North's chief electoral officer, Denis Stanley, did not dispute the new figures on younger voters, but said that the office had done everything required of it under the new legislation.

Caitriona Ruane, South Down Assembly member for Sinn Féin, has asked whether the ``shredding'' of the Register by the Electoral Office was ``professional incompetence or something more sinister''.

``Elsewhere in the world, policy makers are attempting to get more people involved in the electoral process whereas in the Six Counties they have introduced a subtle form of gerrymandering designed to exclude specific sections of the community''.

She pointed out that the most recent census figures showed that 167,683 eligible voters across the North are absent from the current electoral register. In the most up to date figures released by the Electoral Office, 110,000 people across the North who were on the register of June 2002, have been left off December's register.

``The question therefore needs to be asked - is this professional incompetence or a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise specific sections of the electorate because they may choose to vote for a party that is unacceptable to the British establishment?''

The Electoral Office's own statistical information has exposed a system which has proven to be an abject failure.

It has emerged that the unnecessarily complex registration forms are returned to applicants unprocessed regardless of how minor the error. A thousand workers secured the return of only one-in-two completed registration forms.

And there have also been complaints that electoral hearings are organised at inconvenient times in locations that are far away and in areas where they feel unsafe. In South Down, people living in predominately nationalist Kilkeel were had to travel some 40 miles to predominately unionist Banbridge.

``The Electoral Fraud Act is designed to disenfranchise voters, exclude nationalists, republicans and working class Unionists and ensure the status quo. It must not be allowed to succeed,'' said Ruane.

``Sinn Féin is urging people to register and we will be organising a door to door registration campaign throughout the six counties. This will begin in February when the new register is released and is part and parcel of the battle for equality and human rights.''

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© 2004 Irish Republican News