17 November 2005

40,000 risk losing their right to vote

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
17 November 2005

At least 40,000 people appear to be in danger of falling off Northern Ireland's electoral register when it closes tomorrow.

People who have not filled out forms for two successive voter trawls will be left off the register, prompting Sinn Fein to accuse the Government of applying "different standards" to the electoral process in Northern Ireland.

A new list of voters is due to be published on December 1.

Earlier this year, the Government pushed through emergency legislation to allow about 70,000 voters who hadn't re-registered to stay on the list for May's general and local government elections.

The move was taken amid long-standing concerns about reductions in the size of Northern Ireland's voter pool.

The introduction of anti-fraud measures three years ago - including a requirement that every voter has to register him or herself - saw the electoral register fall.

This year ministers opted to temporarily return to a measure known as the "carry forward", which kept voters on the register even if they had failed to fill out a form.

The change allowed about 70,000 people to stay on the register in time for the election.

Electoral officials estimate around 25,000 to 30,000 of those voters have signed up during the current trawl.

That leaves about 40,000 to 45,000 who have not filled in registration forms twice in a row.

Sinn Fein vice president Pat Doherty has accused the Government of deliberately trying to remove voters from the register.

"In the last few years there has been a huge decline in numbers of people registered to vote," he said. "This has arisen as a result of the introduction of new and restrictive procedures for registration.

"Just eight months ago, in response to this decline in the electoral register, the British Government announced that to maximise the numbers entitled to vote in the May elections 70,000 people who were earlier removed from the register would be placed back on it.

"It is therefore incomprehensible that the British Government are again intent on removing these same people from the election register, and effectively denying them their right to vote in the next election."

Mr Doherty said he has asked for an urgent meeting with Political Development Minister David Hanson.

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