GE17: No electronic voter registration for Northern Ireland

By Peter Coulter

Image source, UK GOVERNMENT

Electronic voter registration will not be in place in Northern Ireland for the snap general election on 8 June.

Legislation to bring in the registration was passed in December but the systems are not in place yet.

The Electoral Office has said it hopes to be able to introduce it in the autumn.

In Great Britain, 90% of voter registrations are now made online. Electronic registration was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales in 2014.

Voters in Northern Ireland were also not able to register online for the recent assembly elections.

Paper forms must be filled out and returned to a local election office.

'Modernise the system'

Speaking on Good Morning Ulster in January, the former chief electoral officer Graham Shields, said voter registration could have been brought in in February.

"Indeed, had it not been for the assembly election, it is very likely we would have been able to bring it in, in the next month or so," he said.

"Regretfully, that work has had to be put to the side until we see through the election but it is coming and it will come later this year but unfortunately not before the election."

Previously the electoral office had also tweeted two MLAs saying that e-registration would be in place by the end of 2016.

The UUP MP, Tom Elliott, said he had met the Northern Ireland Office Minister, Kris Hopkins, to press him on the issue and said they were "trying to identify why it hasn't taken place".

"My understanding from a meeting we had some months ago was that it was broadly in place and most of the issues had been ironed and the difficulties resolved," he said.

"I'm not sure what the delays are because they have the software in place so it shouldn't be difficult to do.

"I thought it could have been implemented very quickly but for some reason it hasn't."

Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd said it is "time to modernise our electoral register."

"My understanding is that the electoral office said that they could have had the process in place if they had a few more weeks," he said.

"Well they've had six weeks, they'd have several years to get this process in place."

Image caption,
The Electoral Office NI had tweeted Pam Cameron MLA and the late Martin McGuinness to say online registration would be available in 2016

Gavin Robinson, a DUP MP, said the electoral offices plan to introduce e-registration had been "thrown into chaos" because of the assembly and that the deadline would now probably have to be moved "further down the road".

The Alliance Party MLA, Stewart Dickson, said it was "particularly disappointing" that e-registration was still not in place.

"Staff were telling me that they were virtually ready to go but the plug was pulled because they had to put their resources into that election and of course now resources will now go into at least one more election."

A UK Government spokesperson confirmed that digital registration would not be in place for the general election.

"The government remains committed to introducing online registration to Northern Ireland as soon as possible and legislation to provide for this was passed by Parliament in December.

"However, it is important to ensure that the system is properly tested and robust, which will not be possible in time for the 8 June election.

"The electoral office will therefore continue to use the current paper registration system for this election."

In a statement the electoral office said it "is creating a new electronic information management system which will make it possible to link onto the UK electronic registration system.

"It is still anticipated that the planned electronic registration will be available in the autumn."

The deadline to register to vote in the UK General Election is 22 May 2017.

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