N. Ireland Politics

2019 European elections: Postal and proxy votes down in NI

Ballot box at election count Image copyright PA

There have been significantly fewer applications for postal and proxy votes in Northern Ireland for the European elections than for the council elections.

Some people have complained they received polling cards after the proxy and postal voting application deadline.

Chief Electoral Officer Virgina McVea said it was a "very concerning matter".

She added that the number of those who have applied for absent votes was approximately 14,400.

During the last European Election in 2014, around 13,782 postal votes were cast.

However, ahead of the recent council election the Electoral Office issues approximately 22,400 postal votes.

Those applying for an absent vote in this year's election had to do so before the deadline - 17:00 BST on Thursday, 2 May.

'No way to vote'

Some people have said they received polling cards informing them of the deadline after it had passed.

Alice Armstrong, from Bangor, told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme she was disappointed not to be able to vote.

"I hadn't been home for a number of days and when I got back I realised my polling card had arrived," she explained.

"I knew it had arrived on 11 May, but on the back of it, it said the deadline to apply for a postal or proxy vote was 2 May.

"I planned a holiday from last November for the week the vote is due to take place.

"There's no way I can vote now. The whole thing highlighted to me that it is unfair."

'Not humanly possible'

The Electoral Office has blamed the truncated timetable for the European election, caused by the Westminster government's late confirmation of the poll, combined with the workload involved in running a regional election across Northern Ireland's 11 district councils in which 819 candidates stood.

The head of the organisation, Virginia McVea, said it was due to an "unprecedented situation".

She added that it was not possible to engage the printers at an earlier stage to produce European election polling cards, as they had been very busy either with the local government polling cards or other material related to the council election.

"We can meet all of our deadlines within the electoral office," she said, "but the 1.3 million people in the electorate have to get poll cards and ballot papers.

"The print house we work with was working right up until the 24 April - it couldn't stop doing the locals."

She added that, with extra hours being worked, polling cards were produced at the earliest possible date.

"They (printers) shaved all the time off it that they could but, proofing from the 24 April, this was the fastest it could be done.

"I raised the concerns with the Electoral Commission and provided them with a schedule of the breakdown of printing that showed it wasn't humanly possible in Northern Ireland to have it done any faster.

"They couldn't provide me with any other solution as to how it would be done and we knew we would end up in this situation.

"But it is of grave concern to me."

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