Belfast Telegraph

Local Election 2019

DUP's Gregory Campbell in call for scrutiny over proxy and postal voting

Gregory Campbell
Gregory Campbell
Elisha McCallion
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell has called on the Electoral Office to ensure all applications for postal and proxy votes are scrutinised properly.

The DUP veteran was speaking after analysis showed a large increase in postal and proxy votes in seats which elected a Sinn Fein MP during the 2017 general election.

The average number of proxy votes in seats which elected a Sinn Fein MP was 23.5 per 1,000 ballots.

In the seats which did not elect a Sinn Fein MP, this figure was 7.8 per 1,000 ballots.

Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion won the Foyle constituency from the SDLP's Mark Durkan by 169 votes.

The number of proxy votes cast in Foyle at the last election was 27.8 per 1,000 ballots.

Following Ms McCallion's 2017 victory, police were asked to investigate a small number of reports of electoral fraud in the Foyle constituency.

It followed the reports being passed on to Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVey.

In the wake of the election, an SDLP delegation met with Mrs McVey to discuss constituents' concerns that their vote had been cast before they arrived at the polling station.

It later emerged that the use of proxy votes in some Sinn Fein-dominated areas of Derry was more than 17 times the UK average. Mr Campbell said that there had been a "huge increase" in absenting voting in specific parts of Northern Ireland in recent years.

He recently contacted Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Minister for the Constitution Chloe Smith to discuss the issue.

The MP said recent analysis of the increase had shown "disturbing trends", particularly ahead of the May local elections where seats are normally decided by fine margins.

"I previously raised concerns about the unprecedented number of applications," he said.

"The process has now been centralised, but the Electoral Office still needs to instil confidence amongst the public that full and proper scrutiny of every single application is going to be carried out.

"There is no logical explanation for the huge disparity in application rates across Northern Ireland.

"I have yet to hear any explanation for the situation in Foyle. An almost fourfold differential defies a rational explanation."

Mr Campbell said there were also concerns that voter data could be removed from polling stations by polling agents appointed by parties.

"No party should have anything to fear from a thorough examination of all practices involved in our electoral system," he said.

"The public must have confidence that the process is rigorous and fair, from the application form right through until votes have been cast."

The Electoral Office has been contacted in relation to this story.

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