Government ‘ignored calls’ on improving voter register

The Government has ignored warnings from the most senior local government officials that the method used to compile the electoral register was “out of date and in need of urgent replacement”.

Government ‘ignored calls’ on improving voter register

No major changes have been made to reform the register, despite criticism by the representative body of the heads of local authorities about the slow pace to modernise the system of maintaining an eligible voter list.

The Irish Examiner has seen documents which show the County and City Managers Association warned the Government that the practices used to maintain the register were outdated and in need of urgent improvements since May 2012.

The association urged the Department of Environment to implement the recommendations of a little-known initiative, the Electoral Register Improvement Project over three years ago.

Local authorities spent more than €7.4m in 2014 on the checking of the register in an annual exercise which is widely regarded as deeply flawed. The Electoral Register Improvement Project was established in 2011 by the four local authorities in Dublin under the direction of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

It subsequently was expanded as a national project and was overseen by a board consisting of representatives from local authorities, the Department of the Environment and the former Local Government Computer Services Board.

In May 2012, the chairman of the association, Hubert Kearns, wrote to the then secretary general of the Department of the Environment, Geraldine Tallon to complain that the technology used to support the existing register was “out of date and in need of urgent replacement”.

The association urged the Government to seize the initiative and rather than simply upgrade the technology it called for fundamental reform of the register process by implementing the project’s recommendations.

Among the main changes proposed were:

  • The introduction of a centrally hosted database of all electors.
  • Provision for applicants to be required to provide a unique identifier such as their PPS number to go on the register.
  • The provision of an online portal to allow electors to register themselves.
  • A move to a ‘rolling’ register and ending the existing ‘draft/live’ versions.
  • Automating the import of ‘life event’ data such as deaths.
  • The use of a range of modern media including text messages to issue polling cards.

Ms Tallon suggested reform of the register could be examined in the context of the commitment in the Programme for Government to establish an electoral commission which she said was likely to be examined in early 2013.

However, a formal consultation process on the establishment of an electoral commission was only launched by Environment Minister Alan Kelly last January.

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