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Terrorists could use online voter details, warns Elliott

By Staff Reporter

Published 14/10/2016

Concerns: MP Tom Elliott
Concerns: MP Tom Elliott

Online voter registration in Northern Ireland could be manipulated by terrorists, an Ulster Unionist MP has said.

Tom Elliott urged caution following the unveiling of plans for digital registration to be rolled out in Northern Ireland in 2019.

Legislation will be presented to Parliament next month in order to permit the introduction of digital registration.

In July, the Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP asked the NIO junior minister Kris Hopkins about the introduction of digital electoral registration to Northern Ireland.

"Mr Hopkins subsequently wrote to inform me that a full public consultation process would take place. This is now under way and legislation will be presented to the House next month," said Mr Elliott.

"While I am generally supportive of the principle of online voter registration - which will hopefully increase levels of voter participation - there are ongoing concerns regarding the future of regional electoral offices, including those in Ballymena, Newtownabbey, Banbridge, Londonderry, Omagh and Newtownards.

"Will the introduction of online registration signal the end of regional electoral offices?"

But Mr Elliott said there were other elements of the plans that worried him.

"I also have concerns that online voter registration has the potential to be manipulated by criminal and terrorist elements. In the past we have seen terrorist groups attempting to subvert the democratic process, and the Home Office are no doubt aware of this," he said.

In England, Scotland or Wales, you can register to vote online - where 90% of voters now do so. But in Northern Ireland, a paper form must be filled in and delivered to a local Area Electoral Office.

During the Troubles, unionists often accused republicans of manipulating elections through fraudulent votes, leading to tighter controls on elections here than elsewhere in the UK.

But with the Government keen to make reforms to bring Northern Ireland into step with the rest of the UK, and re-engage with voters, online registration is now on the cards.

Mr Hopkins said digital registration "promises to make registering to vote more straightforward".

"This consultation will help to manage the transition while maintaining public confidence in how elections are managed," he said.

"I have seen first-hand how councils can play an important role in the delivery of elections, maintaining a vital local link to the wider democratic process.

"I am pleased, therefore, that this consultation seeks views on giving them an enhanced role."

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