Northern Ireland

Voting: Plan to extend electronic registration and councils' role

Ballot box Image copyright PA
Image caption Voters in Northern Ireland will be able to register to vote electronically

Plans have been announced to allow Northern Ireland voters to register electronically and to give councils more involvement in running elections.

The proposals are contained in a public consultation jointly published by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland.

However, the consultation has been criticised by the Northern Ireland's biggest public sector union, Nipsa.

It claimed it was an uncosted bid to "save money and dress it up as reform".

Nipsa official Dooley Harte said: "This document provides no options but rather is a blatant attempt by the Northern Ireland Office and the chief electoral officer to lead the Northern Ireland public right up the path to a worse service that we could end up paying for."

He added that the consultation "provides no financial information on what it costs to run the current offices, how much it will cost to devolve functions to councils, what services will be lost or reduced".

Mr Harte further claimed that there has been no proper engagement with councils "to get their agreement to devolution".

However, Northern Ireland Minister Kris Hopkins said: "I have seen first-hand how councils can play an important role in the delivery of elections, maintaining a vital local link to the wider democratic process.

"I am pleased therefore that this consultation seeks views on giving them an enhanced role."

The Northern Ireland consultation process is due to end in January. The Electoral Office have said they are hopeful the system will be running by 2017.

In Great Britain, 90% of voter registrations are now made online.

Mr Hopkins added: "Digital registration will bring Northern Ireland into step with the rest of the UK and promises to make registering to vote more straightforward."

Legislation to introduce electronic registration is due be presented to parliament next month.

Nipsa has called on the public to "fight for the retention of the current regional electoral offices".

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