Poll chief is defiant

Posted By: March 29, 2013

Daily Ireland March 13 2005

The North of Ireland⤁s chief electoral officer has said he will not resign despite confirmation that more than 100,000 people will be without a vote in May.
Speaking to Daily Ireland, Dr Denis Stanley dismissed widespread political criticism of his department, insisting that it was ⤦doing a good job�.
Yesterday was the last opportunity for members of the public to get themselves onto the electoral register in time for local government elections and probable Westminster elections on May 5.
Anyone who had not signed up by 5pm will not be able to cast a vote in two months⤁ time. Although final figures have yet to be tallied, it is estimated that the registration system will deny around 100,000 people a ballot in the upcoming elections.
In the 2001 Westminster election, 1,191,009 people were eligible to vote in the North⤁s 18 constituencies. Shortly after, at the behest of unionists and the SDLP, the British government introduced the 2002 Electoral Fraud Act (EFA) to combat what they claimed was incidents of people voting more than once. The EFA requires the public to sign up to an electoral register on a yearly basis.
The election that followed the introduction of the controversial EFA, the 2003 Assembly poll, saw the electorate in the north fall to 1,059,659 ⤔ a drop of over 130,000 people.
The Electoral Office came in for widespread criticism, particularly in working class areas, with thousands of people who were denied a vote saying it was impossible to understand the registration forms and insisting they had been omitted from the register despite having filled in a form.
Brushing aside these criticisms, Dr Stanley remains adamant that the EFA is working and that despite disenfranchising around 100,000 voters it has virtually eliminated electoral fraud. He also claimed the massive drop in voting numbers could not be blamed on the Electoral Office
Referring to Sinn Féin⤁s calls for his resignation, Dr Stanley said, ⤦Of course I will not resign. I do exactly what the law requires me to do to the best of my ability and my staff are exactly the same. There is absolutely no error of judgment on the part of the Electoral Office; we implement the law. People do not understand the logistics and mechanics of running a major election.�
The chief electoral officer also accused people not on the electoral register of ⤦not conforming� with the law.
He said, ⤦There is an obligation on people to register. It often seems to be a perception at times that it is the Electoral Office⤁s job to find everyone and persuade them to fill in the form. It is in fact the other way around. There is a legal obligation on people to fill in the form and supply the Electoral Office with their registration information. People who do not register are not conforming with legislation as it stands. Those people should fill in the form themselves, they cannot expect the Electoral Office to go and persuade them time after time after time.�
Dr Stanley admitted he had no idea how many of the 100,000 voters disenfranchised since the 2001 Westminster election represented fraudulent votes.
⤦I have no evidence to say how many people on the previous register, in any way, were involved in fraud. I don⤁t know what percentage of the drop in voting numbers since 2001 can be attributed to fraud, I have no way of knowing that. What I am saying is that there were several studies carried out which tend to indicate that there was fraud and we are now fairly content that there is little fraud.�
Dr Stanley conceded that part of the reason why so many voters were missing is because the public had to sign up to the register on a yearly basis. He said the Electoral Office was pressing the British government into changing this to either a three or five year registration system.
⤦Getting people signed up on a yearly basis takes a considerable amount of time and effort to do. This doesn⤁t then allow us to pursue the people who are not on the register. We are keen to have the register running for three or five years, giving us the time then to target the people who are not on the register.
⤦No one should feel ⤗here⤁s a form I can⤁t fill in⤁,� added Dr Stanley. ⤦They should call into our offices. The Electoral Office is happy to go out to people who need help. We do our best to have an outreach, but we are limited because every autumn we have to put so much effort into re-doing the register. If we had a three or five year registration system it would allow us