Electoral officers in the North are said to have launched a campaign to return the votes of hundreds of thousands of people disenfranchised by recent legislation.
The annual voter registration drive follows the introduction of the system of annual registration, which removed the right to vote from around 210,000 people.
The new requirements were widely seen as an attempt to disenfranchise republican and working-class communities. But wide swathes of people were confused by the process and assumed that, once they had signed on one year, they would be eligible to vote in future elections.
The North’s heavily politicised Electoral Office is now promoting a month-long drive to win back voters who failed to complete the bureaucratic and personally invasive process this year.
Amid continuing efforts by political parties to scrap the annual registration, electoral officials are now calling at homes across the North of Ireland to compile this year’s list of people aged 17 and over.
The canvassers “will offer friendly advice and assist anyone who needs help to complete the form,” officials said. “The personal information you give on the form is kept confidential by the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland. It is not published on any register.”
Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has accused the Electoral Office of ‘living in cloud cuckoo land’ after the Assistant Chief Electoral Officer June Butler heralded the registration programme adopted in the Six Counties as the ‘way ahead’.
“If the registration is such a success then why are we about to get changes to the legislation to try and combat the shredding of the electoral register,” she said.
“Even the British government now accept that there is a serious problem.
“Sinn Féin has raised our serious concerns about the disenfranchisement of people, particularly people with disabilities, young people and people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds with the Equality Commission.
“If anyone working within the Electoral Office thinks that the registration programme is a success they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
“How could anyone possibly describe the disenfranchisement of 200,000 people as the way ahead?”
Sinn Féin has urged all eligible voters, including those who will turn 18 next year, to ensure their votes by returning their forms to the Electoral Office.