Belfast Telegraph

Call for vote reform in Northern Ireland as up to 430,000 not registered

Change needed: Dr Jess Garland
Change needed: Dr Jess Garland

By Staff Reporter

More than 360,000 people are missing from electoral registers in Northern Ireland, and the figure could be as high as 430,000 according to figures issued by the Electoral Commission.

Campaign group the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has warned that these people risk being disenfranchised if a snap General Election is called soon.

Dr Jess Garland, director of Policy and Research at ERS, said: "These figures should sound the alarm for anyone who cares about democracy. Hundreds of thousands of potential voters in Northern Ireland are effectively missing from the electoral roll, representing a major barrier to political equality and democratic engagement. That means any snap election will be on the basis of a flawed franchise.

"You shouldn't have to opt in to your right to vote. As the Electoral Commission says, we need to move towards automatic registration now, starting with being able to check you are registered online, and being able to register whenever you engage with government bodies services."

Renters and young people are particularly likely to be excluded, the ERS said.

It is calling for moves towards automatic registration to deal with the "hidden crisis of under-registration", and argues that in countries including Canada, Finland and Belgium, people can sign up whenever they engage with government bodies, or they are automatically opted in.

The Electoral Commission research, the first detailed look at the NI electoral register in three years, found that the proportion of people registered to vote in NI had fallen, and that one in four eligible voters here are not correctly registered at their current address, representing as many as 360,000 to 430,000 people.

Meanwhile, 20% of the register entries are inaccurate, affecting up to 285,000 people, the Commission found.

Calling for the modernisation of the electoral registration system in Northern Ireland, the Electoral Commission said public data could be better used to help keep the electoral register accurate and complete.

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