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Easier to register to vote in Birmingham, Alabama than the North

16 February, 2009

West Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann has commented after the revelation that it is easier to get onto the electoral register in Birmingham, Alabama, than it is to get on the register in the North of Ireland.

Ms McCann said:

"Sinn Fein contacted officials in the Elections Division of the Office of the Alabama Secretary of State to enquire about the process involved in getting onto the electoral register in Alabama.

"An Alabama election official confirmed to us that extra identification evidence is not required in Alabama on top of filling in a registration form.

"In the 1960s Birmingham, Alabama, was the centre of the Civil Rights struggle for African Americans. It was a place where discrimination was institutional.

"Now today we find that the process involved in getting registered in Alabama is much simpler and easier than the process in the North of Ireland.

"All you need to do in Alabama to get on the register is fill in an electoral registration form and send it in.

"Yet here, in the North of Ireland, even after filling in a registration form and providing their name, address, date of birth, national insurance number and signature, people are still been denied their place on the register.

In the year from Dec 2007 to Dec 2008 almost 800 registration forms submitted from West Belfast residents were rejected by the Electoral Office. In Belfast as a whole in that same period, over 3,500 people were denied their rightful place on the electoral register after their forms were rejected.

This is unacceptable and is a clear denial of the right to vote and we have to question the motives of the Electoral Office which is accountable to, and funded by, the NIO.

The Electoral Office has access to lists of deaths, of people who will be turning 18 and Central Services Agency, council and NIHE databases which deal with changes of address. This access to information should allow the Electoral Office to track changes themselves.

"Many people are turned off by the complex process involved in getting registered. These are largely people from disadvantaged areas, who already feel detached from the system.

"The Electoral Office must end their excessive demands on individuals for unnecessary additional evidence and they must prioritise getting those people who are not on the electoral register onto the register.

''In particular, the Electoral Office needs to be proactive in bringing forward initiatives to bring increased numbers of people from disadvantaged areas onto the electoral register.

These are the people who are suffering most from the excessive demands of the Electoral Office.

"I am sure that people will be shocked and alarmed that it is easier to register to vote in Birmingham, Alabama, once the centre of discrimination against African Americans, than it is to register in the North of Ireland." ENDS

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