Sinn Féin - On Your Side

De Brún calls on voters to register now for EU elections

4 April, 2004

Speaking this evening at a Sinn Féin party meeting in Belfast, MLA Bairbre de Brún again highlighted the current problems with the Electoral Register and encouraged those who have been denied their vote to ensure that they apply to be registered before this Thursday, April 8th.

Ms de Brún said:

"April 8th is the cut off date for submitting registration forms for anyone wanting to register to vote in this year's European election.

As I speak the drop in the electoral register from June 2001 when the last election was fought on the old household registration scheme is some 211,000 people. Add to this an additional 30,000 people who according to a statement from the Electoral Office were refused their vote on polling day last November because they did not have the an 'acceptable' form of identification.

These figures show that the scale of electoral fraud being practised by the British government on the people of the six counties is massive. Almost a quarter of a million people who could have been eligible to vote under the old household registration process back in June 2001 will most likely not be voting come this June.

It is not the fault of the people for failing to register to vote. The fault lies with those political parties, like the SDLP who demanded new electoral laws and the British government who facilitated this demand when they introduced the Electoral Fraud Act in May 2002.

The new legislation was introduced on foot of false claims by Sinn Fein's political opponents that the party was involved in electoral fraud.

These allegations are not only untrue but hide the real reason behind the legislation which was to reduce the number of actual or potential Sinn Fein voters on the electoral register and erect barriers to those who want to

exercise their right to vote.

Even this very limited and dubious objective has not been achieved. In the Assembly elections last November Sinn Féin received its highest share of the nationalist vote since it started contesting elections. It was returned as

the largest nationalist party and indeed is now the largest pro agreement party in the six counties.

This legislation which is designed to undermine the Sinn Féin potential vote is doing that and more. Every party has been affected by this legislation and those currently off the register due to this legislation are potential voters for the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the various unionist parties.

The Electoral Office and the Electoral Commission have publicly stated on a number of occasions that those most affected by this legislation are those who live in designated socially deprived areas.

Their reports show that working class areas like Ballybeen in East Belfast and Twinbrook and Poleglass in West Belfast have the highest number of people off the register since the new laws were introduced.

The silence from political parties purporting to represent the electorate speaks volumes about their commitment to the democratic process. They have knowingly bought into an undemocratic system in the hope that Sinn Fein will

be damaged at the polls.

And the silence doesn't stop there, organisations which are involved in protecting human and equality rights have not publicly opposed this legislation.

They seemed to be satisfied that provided people aren't blocked by armed guards or tanks on their way to the polling station they can freely exercise their right to vote and therefore the system is democratic.

But a brief comparison between the old and new systems show that tanks and armed guards are not needed to create an undemocratic process, a form and cumbersome bureaucracy can do the job just as effectively.

Under the old system of household registration a form was posted to the family home in September every year.

The head of the household filled in the form for everyone in the house who was eligible to vote. The sole criterion was that you were of voting age on the required date. A canvasser later collected the form or the form was posted to the relevant electoral office.

Those named on the form were guaranteed they would appear on the following year's electoral register.

With the relevant photographic and non-photographic identification they voted at the subsequent election.

Under the new legislation the following obstacles apply only to the north. They do not apply to the rest of Ireland or Britain.

An individual has to register personally and must register annually. The registration form must be signed, personal details such as, date of birth and national insurance number must be given. All identification must be photographic and of a certain type.

Add to this the fact that the Electoral Office does not have the resources to canvass all areas of the six counties adequately. On occasions in the past people living in entire streets did not receive their registration forms.

Many families did not receive enough forms for their family and unless the individual contacted the Electoral Office personally they did not receive a form.

Many people applying for the electoral ID card did not receive it on time to vote in last November's election. Some people are only getting their ID card now, six months and one election later.

The British government should immediately rectify this appalling situation by introducing the following measures

  • Household registration should be restored. This would require amending legislation.
  • Voter registration should take place every year and voters should remain on the register for five years.
  • Photographic and non-photographic forms of personal identification should be acceptable.
  • The Electoral Office should continue to provide mobile photographic booths across the north to provide official electoral photographic identification.
  • Electoral Courts should be abolished. The personal identifier requirements supplied on the registration form should be sufficient proof of identification and validation of an application.
  • Registration should be allowed up to 7days before polling day.

The British government claim they are committed to creating a democratic society in the north.

However at the very point where this commitment can best be tested is the process that leads to the ballot box. And the British government have been found wanting in that regard." ENDS

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