Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Assembly election 2017: How do I register to vote and when are the important deadlines

By Jonny Bell

The starting pistol has been fired on the next Northern Ireland Assembly election. And given it is a little earlier than originally anticipated, by almost five years, the rush is on to make sure you can vote.

To register to vote you must be on the electoral register. The deadline to be eligible to cast your vote on March 2 is February 14. You can download an application form from the Northern Ireland Electoral Commission.

It must be handed into your nearest electoral office. You nearest office can be found again from the Electoral Office website.

Should you be unable to cast a vote, a postal or proxy voting application can be downloaded here. The deadline to apply is February 10.

Those seeking a seat can officially become candidates the day after the Assembly is dissolved - January 27.

Their deadline to be on the ballot paper is February 8.

Last year some 276 people stood for election to the 108 seats. This time around there are 18 fewer seats up for grabs with constituencies reduced from six MLAs to five.

Meanwhile, parties are allowed to spend £306,000 each on the election campaign between January 16 and March 2 and must provide statements to Electoral Commission after the vote.

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland said: "The Electoral Commission has plans in place to support the efficient delivery of the election for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"Our role will include providing advice and guidance to parties and campaigners, as well as delivering a public awareness campaign so that voters have the information they need to cast their vote with confidence.

“Our report on the recent Assembly Election held in May 2016 found that this was well run and we will work closely with the Chief Electoral Officer to support their work and make sure that this is the case again.

“To vote in this election you must be registered to vote. The deadline for registering to vote is Tuesday 14 February. You can check if you are registered by calling the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland on 0800 4320 712 or emailing

"If you can’t make it to the polling station on 2 March then you have until Friday 10 February to apply for a postal or proxy vote. For more information on registering to vote or how to vote at the election visit”

The ins and outs of the Northern Ireland voting system

Currently there are 38 DUP MLAs, 28 Sinn Fein members, 16 Ulster Unionists, 12 from the SDLP and eight Alliance among the 108 members as well as two Greens, two People Before Profit Alliance members and one TUV member and one independent.

While in the next term there will be 90 MLAs, the make-up of the institutions remains a question. Since forcing an election Sinn Fein has said there can be no return to the "status quo" meaning a reworking of the power-sharing institutions or even a period of suspension could follow.

In law, the Assembly needs to meet one week after an election and a new Executive in place two weeks after that. If the main parties do not nominate first and deputy first ministers, then Secretary of State James Brokenshire must call an election.

Rather than another vote, it is likely devolution would be suspended. Mr Brokenshire would need to pass emergency legislation in order to make that move after those powers were removed in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

How do I vote?

The system used to elect members of the Assembly is by single transferable vote. This means you vote in order of preference. So decide who your number one is and then 2,3,4,5 and so on. You can continue on for as long as you like along the ballot paper and you don't have to put a number by each candidate. A pencil will be provided - this is because a pen could tear the ballot paper. Although you can use your own stationery.

Who do I vote for?

That's for you to decide - and remember you can't discuss who you might vote for, or the merits of each candidate in the polling station. Last year there were 276 candidates that stood for election.

What's at stake?

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said the future of the devolved institutions now rest with the Northern Ireland public.

Where can I get the results?

Where else, but right here on the Belfast Telegraph website. We'll have comprehensive coverage throughout the entire process until every MLA is elected. Including analysis and all the political fallout.

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