Monday 5 December 2016

Bloated voter register raises the risks of electoral fraud

Published 15/01/2016 | 02:30

Labour TD Michael McCarthy. Photo: Tom Burke
Labour TD Michael McCarthy. Photo: Tom Burke

Ireland's register of voters seriously overstates the numbers of people entitled to vote - and opens up "significant opportunity" for fraud, a new report finds.

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Just six weeks from the General Election, the report endorsed by TDs and senators of the Oireachtas environment committee finds that at the last election the register of electors contained almost half a million people more than it should have.

A similar assessment of the 2007 election found that over 600,000 more names were on the register than should have been recorded. The report suggests that keeping people who have died as registered voters and also recording people at more than one address remained a serious problem. It proposes several changes to help overcome these issues - but none can be done before the election.

"An over-inflated register opens up significant opportunity for fraudulent use of ballots and, therefore, the flouting of the one-man-one-vote principle," the report concludes.

Dr Theresa Reidy, of the UCC politics department, said there were long-standing concerns about the accuracy of the voter register and said there was very little urgency about remedying the problem.

The report finds that in the last eight elections, the register of voters was over-stated by up to 9pc when compared with the most recent Census of Population.

It notes that a comparison with the 2011 Census of Population and the numbers entitled to vote in the 2011 General Election found an excess of 200,000 people registered.

But the problem comes into sharper focus when an internationally-accepted rule of thumb - that the voter register should be up to 20pc below the total adult population of the country - is taken into account. The report suggests that in the case of Ireland a threshold of 10pc below the total voting-age population would be best applied.

Dr Reidy, who was among those who made a submission to the committee, said this 80pc-90pc recommended ratio of fewer registered voters to the national population is based on research work by the Nordic Electoral Knowledge Network.

The Oireachtas environment committee chairman, Labour TD Michael McCarthy, said his committee accepted the report which proposes a new Electoral Commission which would take control of supervising politics - including fixing the register of voters, and policing politicians' fundraising.

Mr McCarthy accepted the changes could only happen in the lifetime of the next government, and acknowledged that these proposals had been around in various forms for many years.

The Environment Department said it did not accept reports of "massive inaccuracies" in the electoral register and said a polling card was not an entitlement to vote.

"Voters are asked to bring ID to the polling station and polling staff are expected to check the identity of at least 25pc of voters," the department official said.

The Environment Department also argued it was every citizen's responsibility to register to vote. The spokesman said Dáil constituencies were drawn up on the basis of the most recent census - so this issue could not lead to over-representation or under-representation of any given area.

n Threats of legal challenges to the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry report delaying the expected election date at the end of February receded last night.

The Bank Inquiry chairman, Labour TD Ciarán Lynch, wrote to two developers who had threatened High Court action over the draft report, and offered some changes in wording.

Developers Michael O'Flynn and Johnny Ronan said they would not take court action. The committee will proceed with its planned publication date of January 27.

Irish Independent

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