| 3.9°C Dublin

Inaccurate register sparks electoral fraud concerns

THE electoral register is still "catastrophically" inaccurate in some areas even after the major controversy before the last General Election in 2007 over its dire state, the Sunday Independent has learnt.

Fine Gael's Phil Hogan said the state of the register was "disastrous" and PPS numbers should be used as a basis of registration.

Given the high level of inaccuracy, the potential for electoral fraud is now a major concern and voters are being urged to check the register to ensure they are on it.

Investigations by this newspaper in late 2006 revealed that the register was 20 per cent distorted, and despite many promises being made to improve it, "significant errors" remain, according to senior government sources.

Every local authority is responsible for compiling and publishing a list of voters in its area, and, despite some improvements since 2007, in some areas the level of inaccuracy on the register has been described as "catastrophic".

An incomplete and out-of-date register, where people have either not registered to vote and the names of those who have died or moved away have not been removed, is the likely explanation for the discrepancy between the census figures and the register.

As of February 15, 2010, a total of 3,154,588 were registered to vote. Updates to the register made during the latter part of last year will come into effect next month.

But typically, there is a rush to join the supplementary register in the weeks before an election.

But the general level of accuracy of the register across the country is likely to become a hot topic, particularly with many sitting TDs in danger of losing their seats.

"The whole system is disastrous. It needs to be taken off the hands of the local authorities and given to a national body to run properly," said Mr Hogan.

"Also using people's PPS numbers is, to my mind, the best basis for ensuring accuracy."

Several months ago, Fine Gael senator Paudie Coffey said that as many as 8,000 Waterford people might be eligible to vote at Dail elections but don't have their names on the electoral register.

"Our system for compiling voters' lists is a mess," said Mr Coffey. He said the accuracy of the register could easily be tested by comparing it with the census figure.

In 2009, after the local elections, former TD and now Longford councillor Mae Sexton alleged that a number of her council colleagues only got elected because of electoral fraud.

"It was and still is probably one of the greatest topics of conversation in this county. Everyone knows what happened. I believe a strategy was put in place a few months before the election," she said.

In excess of 1,000 names were added to the council's supplementary register in the Longford town area alone.

Sunday Independent