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3,500 turned away from polling stations during Northern Ireland election

50% increase in proxy votes, with parties hand delivering on deadline day creating 'significant pressure'

By Jonny Bell

A report on March's Assembly election has revealed almost 3,500 people turned out to vote, but were turned away because they were not properly registered to take part.

The Electoral Commission has described it as disappointing the number of people wanting to cast their vote but were unable to do so because they were not on the register.

West Belfast saw the most people turned away with 425 refused a vote, Lagan Valley saw the smallest amount of voters turned away with 109.

Prior to the snap election more than 60,000 people were taken off the electoral register because they had not completed the necessary paperwork.

The report also reveals that there was a 50% increase on proxy votes. The chief electoral officer, Virginia McVea expressed her frustration that a large number of application forms were hand delivered by political parties on the day of the deadline creating "significant pressure". It meant error could not be rectified and the vote rejected.

Given the speed with which the election was called, the report notes, there were added difficulties in getting people registered to vote as the "late registration" period came into effect immediately meaning further documentation was required for those wanting to be able to cast their vote.

Head of the Electoral Commission Ann Watt, has urged people to ensure they can have their say in next month's June Westminster poll by registering to vote.

Voters surveyed on polling day also said they were satisfied with the process.

The report also found:

  • 9,450 ballot papers were rejected.
  • 6,836 ballot papers were rejected because there was a first preference for more than one candidate or multiple 'Xs'.
  • 19,666 postal ballots issued - 907 rejected.
  • 9,920 proxy votes allowed. Up 50% on 2016
  • No report of electoral fraud.
  • 11,000 calls made to election helpline. Common questions were about registering to vote, absent voting and identification needed.
  • 80,000 visits to aboutmyvote.co.uk
  • 20,375 voter registration forms downloaded.

The report has also called for progress on "increasing transparency" in how political parties are funded in Northern Ireland.

In the commission's report on the March 2 Assembly vote it found that 812,000 votes were cast representing 64.8% turnout - the biggest since the 1998 Assembly vote.

The report also praised the chief electoral officer for the running of the election - despite just six weeks' notice and a new chief electoral officer only taking up her position in February - which was the first Stormont poll to have all candidates elected without needing a second day. 

Ann Watt added: "There is no doubt that organising and running an election with just over six weeks’ notice was challenging for the chief electoral officer and her staff but we are pleased to report that overall the Assembly election was well-run. We know that preparations are well underway for the UK Parliamentary General Election on June 8 and our report should give voters confidence that these plans can deliver another successful election in Northern Ireland.

“There is now less than one week left to register to vote for the upcoming UK general election. It was disappointing to report that almost 3,500 would-be voters did not get to have their say at the March election as they were not on the electoral register. Poll cards for the UK general election have already been issued so if you have not received one or if you are not sure if you’re registered to vote then you should contact the Electoral Office helpline on 0800 4320 712.”

Meanwhile voters who cannot make it to their polling station on June 8 only have until Thursday, May 18 to apply for a postal or proxy vote. Application forms are available from www.eoni.org.uk.

Its hoped online registration to vote will be available in Northern Ireland after the Westminster poll.

>>Results centre - select a constituency - every result as it happened -

North Antrim - East Antrim - South Antrim - North Belfast - East Belfast - South Belfast - West Belfast - Strangford - South Down - Lagan Valley - Upper Bann - Newry and Armagh - Fermanagh & South Tyrone - West Tyrone - Mid Ulster - East Londonderry - Foyle - North Down

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