More than 120,000 under-25s 'are not registered' to vote
Figures reveal that thousands of young people may not be on the electoral register, writes Claire Mc Cormack
MORE than 120,000 18-to-25-year-olds - the age group most likely to vote 'yes' in the gay marriage referendum - are not on the electoral register, according to new figures supplied to the Sunday Independent.
In a close vote in the referendum on marriage equality, the high number of disenfranchised young voters could be crucial.
The new figures suggest that more than 33,000 young people may not be registered in Dublin. Cork City and county has 27,178 non-registered young voters, while Co Galway is in third position with 13,724.
In Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Mayo constituency, 3,289 don't have their name on the register.
The new figures were compiled by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) by applying previous research to today's population of 18-to-25-year-olds, which stands at around 400,000.
James Doorley, NYCI deputy director, told the Sunday Independent that a low youth turnout could "ultimately affect the referendum result".
"Young people are overwhelmingly in favour of the referendum, but if they are not registered, they can't vote and it could have a big impact on the result so it's very important that they participate," he said.
Last September a Red C poll, commissioned by the NYCI, found that up to 30pc of 18-25-year-olds were not listed on the electoral register.
The autumn poll also revealed that the problem was particularly acute among 18-21-year-olds - with 43pc not registered.
By applying these findings to current data from the Central Statistics Office, the NYCI established that 120,029 young people, across the State, will be ineligible to vote unless they register within the next nine days.
"We appreciate that the numbers might have come down since our last poll, but every day, more people are turning 18 so it's a constant battle. We only have a couple of weeks left to get as many people on the register as possible if they want to have a vote," said Mr Doorley.
According to the NYCI, the main barrier for young people is red tape around getting included on the supplementary register.
"The current system of printing off a form, getting it stamped at the garda station, then getting an envelope and stamp and posting it off is bizarre to most young people today," said Mr Doorley who is calling for an automatic, online system based on PPS numbers.
"We've been very consistent that the current process is a 19th century system for the 21st century and it's creating huge difficulty," he said.
Some local authorities and youth and community organisations have launched campaigns and run registration drives to increase the number of young people on the electoral register in recent months.
However, the National Youth Council is particularly concerned about those who recently turned 18 and became eligible to vote.
"From a young person's perspective, it's a complicated, bureaucratic process, and it needs to be completely overhauled if we want to ensure that young people have a right to vote," said Mr Doorley.
Sunday Independent pollster Paul Moran, of Millward Brown, says while the absence of some young voters will be an inconvenience to the Yes side, he doesn't think it will make "a game-changing difference" to the outcome.
"Young people are the most liberal and therefore are really going to push forward the Yes side, but if you look at the data, it's those who are slightly older, in the 35-to-44 age group, that are marginally more in favour of voting for same-sex marriage," said Mr Moran.
"I get the feeling to some extent that the very youngest group are slightly overstated in terms of their importance," he said.
For Mr Moran, the real danger to the Yes side is "complacency" and people not turning out at polling stations because they think "it's a done deal".
According to the new statistics, Co Leitrim has 713 non-registered 18-25-year-olds - the lowest amount nationwide. Co Longford is the second lowest at 968.
Meanwhile, between 3,000-4,000 young people may not be registered in 10 individual counties, including Louth, Wexford, Wicklow, Clare, Kilkenny and Kerry.
The potential impact of 120,000 missing votes in the upcoming referendum can be illustrated by the referendum to abolish Seanad Eireann in 2013 - the proposal was defeated by 634,437 No votes to 591,937 Yes votes.
Any young person who is 18 on or before May 22 is eligible to vote. If they are not currently registered, they can do so by downloading and filling in the 'RFA2' form at www.checktheregister.ie.
This form must be brought to a garda station to be stamped and the applicant is required to bring ID. The form must then be returned to the local authority before close of business on Tuesday, May 5.
"With the upcoming bank holiday weekend, the last day for posting the form is effectively Friday, May 1. We strongly encourage young people to register and to go out and vote in the upcoming referendums. It is your democratic right and a great opportunity to have your say in shaping the future of this country," said Mr Doorley of the NYCI.