05 May 2005

Irelandclick.com

Election 2005 - 6,000 extra voters on register--
But many are this morning left without crucial electoral ID cards


An increase of 6,000 in the numbers registered to vote in West Belfast today should have been a cause for celebration this week.
After five years of ever-dwindling numbers on the West Belfast electoral register, the figure rose to a more healthy 53,831 for 2005.
However, the positive figures have been tainted with the news that the Falls Community Council were inundated with calls this week from frustrated constituents who said their electoral ID had not yet arrived.
Hundreds of votes could be wasted if those affected do not receive their photographic ID by post this morning.
Stephen Corr of the Falls Community Council says it’s a huge blow for the organisation, which worked tirelessly in February to increase the number of first-time voters on the electoral register.
“After recent elections, it was clear that voting numbers were well down,” he explained. “ So the British MP John Spellar agreed that the names registered over the last two years would be married together to increase the figures.”
One major shortcoming with the new legislation was that it did not address the issue of first-time voters.
So at the end of February, the Falls Community Council, in conjunction with the Electoral Commission, instigated a week-long drive to encourage first-time voters to register.
“We visited local schools and set up stalls in local shopping centres, and it was a big success – we managed to get over 1,200 to register.”
But on Monday, the first concerned callers contacted the Falls Community Council to say that they had not received their identification.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Stephen. “After all our efforts, after bending over backwards to get these people registered, it’s turned out that a substantial number of them won’t be able to vote tomorrow [Thursday]. We thought our job was done by getting people on the register, but it isn’t. Our phones haven’t stopped all week, and I just think it’s an outrage that these people who have gone to the effort of registering, can’t do so now because of government bureaucracy and inefficiency.”
The community organisation plans to take the matter to the Equality Commission if a substantial number of constituents are denied their right to vote.
“I would call on anyone who is registered but didn’t receive their ID to contact myself at the Falls Community Council, because we intend to take action through the local MP’s office after the election,” said Stephen.
“The British Government goes on about democracy and everyone’s duty to vote, but then they make it so difficult and bureaucratic here. They went to extremes to get people voting in England and Wales, but the same effort wasn’t made in the North of Ireland, and the danger is, if you put a young person off voting, they might not vote again.”
Last night Sinn Féin Lower Falls Councillor Marie Moore praised those who have lead the registration drive in West Belfast, but said one in five in West Belfast still didn’t have the vote.
“That is a direct result of the legislation introduced by the British government which was supported by unionists and the SDLP. Sinn Féin has won the argument that the current electoral registration process is fundamentally flawed. We expect the incoming British government to change that law to enable all voters to exercise their rights,” she added.

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